Woohaaa?! The Zen Photographer is writing about materialistic things? I do believe in travelling as light as possible, as it allows you more freedom to move from place to place without too much packing and sh*t. Therefore, I always think twice (or more) before buying anything new for my camera bag. After all, I've managed just fine with whatever's been in my bag up until now, eh? But a few months ago, I added a new camera to my bag. This camera has greatly improved my travel experience and more importantly, my connecting to people and therefor also my portraits. No, it's not a fancy new DSLR with a 1000€ lens. I would actually say it is the opposite. For just 100 euros, I bought the shittiest camera I have ever owned. I would never be able to use the digital files it produces to sell to a magazine. The tiny lens is actually so bad I wouldn't even upload the pictures on Instagram. But the camera can do something that my DSLR can't. Instantly print the pictures it takes, and I realized it pretty quick.
The main challenge of capturing portraits of complete strangers is building trust with the model. How would you be able to show the personality of a person if they don't let you see it first? Humans are careful creatures. When we decide to make another person our friend, we make them a part of our tribe, our circle of trust. But before you are allowed to cross that border, the person in front of you will scrutinize your every move to decide if you are friend or foe.
The crappy Polaroid camera has solved two things for me: When I meet someone who becomes more than just a photographer’s model, someone that I connect to on another level or someone that helps me in any way, I want to be able to show my appreciation for her efforts. I don't want to carry presents or books in my backpack. And a lot of the locations where I travel don't have internet or even computers, so it would be difficult to ask for an e-mail address to send digital photos. For you and me, being swamped with pictures every day, it doesn't seem much to receive a two-inch photo. But you'll be amazed at how happy this tiny gift can make someone who has never had a portrait of herself.
The second thing this piece of crap helped me to do is open doors to circles of trust of complete strangers. Think about it. Would you be more or less open to trust someone if that person gave you something without asking for anything in return? Whenever we receive something from someone, whether a small gift or a kind gesture, we are hardwired to lower our defenses and trust someone more. Having the trust of the person you are photographing will not only give you more relaxed pictures, but also allow the people viewing the portrait to be able to look deeper into the human that is portrayed.
An instant camera is small enough to fit in any of the compartments in your bag, and printing a picture will only set you back about 50 cents. And that is well-spent money. Give a picture before you take a picture (well, you need to take the first picture before you can give it, but you know what I mean). It is a tiny gesture, but it will actually help you to become a better photographer.
Do you have any tips to share when it comes to connecting with strangers?