A Shy Nature Photographer Photographs Strangers In A Park
I headed to the park with a
“FREE PORTRAITS!” sign
During autumn, a photographer friend of mine once asked me if I would like to start a project with her to photograph strangers despite that I have hardly any experience in portraiture! The idea was that our huge medium format cameras would attract people’s attention.
Normally when I take the Tiny Challenger out, aka my Mamiya RB67, it’s usually to haul and puff up a mountain somewhere in the UK. Recently, however, the poor old girl had been sitting in the steel case for a little while.
As months went by, we never came about to start it. This was until one frosty winter morning that I woke determined I would start. I picked up Tiny Challenger and told her that we were going to Hampstead Heath to scout for locations.
Armed with my favourite lens, the Sekor C 180mm f4.5, we wandered around the park in London to take test shots of my girlfriend in front of promising looking foliage backdrops. A week went by afterwards, developed the photos and picked the best background. But I remained too nervous and shy to go out and start the project!
So, what made me start in the end? My dog, Yogi, was pawing my camera bag. He knows that if I go out to photograph, he gets a long walk. With butterflies in my stomach, Yogi and I headed to the park with a sign saying “FREE PORTRAITS!” and a roll of Ilford HP5+, the ISO 400 speed film I know best and trust.
With luck, I got a curious couple within a few minutes of setting up. Then the stress kicked in when it was revealed that the boyfriend was an experienced portrait photographer experienced with the RB67’s successor, the RZ67! Thankfully, he gave me some helpful tips and calmed my nerves.
To my surprise, my shyness got better with each person and I met some very fascinating people. The old man in portrait four looked like he was ready for an expedition to search for mountain hares in the Peak District. He was kitted out in hiking boots, binoculars and a day pack with a thermoflask despite only crossing the park for a hospital appointment. The spectacled woman in portrait six was an experienced amateur model and had the most gorgeous silver hair I have ever seen.
I have to say that I wasn’t the only shy person there. Most of the people here had never had their portrait taken other than on a smartphone by a friend. I found myself having to engage in conversation to soothe their nervousness while silently cursing myself for forgetting my x8 loupe for focusing. Excuse me for some of the missed focus!
One chap was so shy, he couldn’t stop giggling!
Overall, this was a very interesting and new experience for me, and I can’t wait to continue this project and burn through some more rolls! All in all, I think my most gained experience from this was improved social skills! All portraits were taken with a Cokin yellow filter to darken the shaded foliage and brighten up the faces and the background was blurred out beautifully by my 180mm f4.5 lens.
James Lane is an analogue nature photographer that gave up digital early in 2019. He is tired of missing shots from explaining to curious people that his Mamiya RB67 is not a video camera. He can be usually found either half collapsed on a mountainside or in his darkroom printing his life away.