Okay, photographers, we’ve got a post for you today that, up until we shot in Central Park earlier this week, we would’ve never even thought of: how to shoot in crowded and congested places and still make it look like you and your subjects are the only people there. Ever since we posted Haley and Tom’s Central Park engagement, we’ve been getting loads of questions on this, and we’re happy to answer them today! The good thing about photographing in high-traffic areas is that there are some epic locations to shoot. That’s why they’re highly trafficked! The bad thing about it is this: there are so many people coming from so many directions all at the time (they never seem to stop!) that it’s almost impossible to get big, wide, pulled back images that showcase the landscape and landmarks of an area without having a bunch of people in the background. After some trouble-shooting and patience, we figured it out, though, and today we’ve got a few tips for you on how to make the most of it the next time you’re in crowded a place.
1. Start with Close-Ups
We shoot tighter than a lot of photographers nationally (it seems) because, in the Arizona desert, there’s little, if any, thick foliage in our backgrounds to diffuse light – and we’d rather not have the upper half of every frame as blown out sky. So, because we shoot tighter, we’re used to interacting with our couples from a close, comfortable distance without competing with hundreds of pedestrians getting between our couples and our cameras. In other words, we can keep a very consistent shooting rhythm, because there aren’t any other distractions or interruptions. In big cities, this isn’t the case.
So, we started with close-ups in a less congested area to get everyone comfortable, and get some good frames under our belt, before moving into busier areas. That really seemed to get everyone on the same page and we avoided any kind of awkward start that could’ve (potentially) hurt our confidence or affected our clients’ confidence in us. Remember, trust is one of the most important factors in getting clients to open up. Haley and Tom were total troopers during this entire shoot, and were so patient with us. Lastly, we tried to grab close-ups when we anticipated that the foot traffic was going to last a while. Amy would do those, and then Jordan would be waiting way behind, watching the people. As soon as it was clear, he’d yell to Amy, she’d jump out, and he’d grab the shot. We tried to be as efficient as possible with this system so we didn’t waste any time!
2. Be Patient
There are some spots that are worth waiting for, and others that aren’t. When we found ones that weren’t, we moved on quickly, but when we find ones that were, we tried to be patient enough to wait it out. We kept reminding ourselves that we were in an epic place and had a few iconic shots in mind that we just had to get, because we would’ve kicked ourselves later for not waiting a few extra minutes until the coast was clear to get an image that we might not have ever gotten again – or at least not for a very long time.
3. Communicate Clearly to Clients
It’s already hard enough for our clients to hear us when we’re behind the camera, but when we factor in city traffic, wind, people on foot, bicycles, carriages, and street musicians, it’s tough to hear. Really tough! So, we made sure to, when we could, give posing instructions at close distance, then we’d back up to shoot. We’d even use hand signals (like a thumbs up) when our clients were supposed to pose, or an open hand up (like a stop sign) when we wanted them to stop and wait a minute for people to pass. Also, and we learned this trick from our friend, Matt Kennedy: we made sure to drop the camera when we were giving instructions instead of muffling our voices from behind the lens. It helps so much when our clients can see our lips when we’re talking. That might sound basic, but it’s true and really makes a difference.
4. Give Couples a Count Down
When our NYC couple was on a bridge or in the middle of a busy intersection, we only had a few seconds to nail the ideal shot before foot or car traffic picked back up, but we also needed them to stay in one pose long enough for us to compose the shot multiple ways. If they fell out of the pose, we didn’t have time to correct them and pick back up before traffic got going, so we’d all have to wait again for the next opportunity, which would’ve meant wasted time. So, instead, we gave them countdowns to make sure they’d be able to hold the pose long enough without us having to say anything. For example: we’d say, “Okay, count to ten in your head while you kiss,” or “Hold each other close and count to five in your heads.” That kind of specificity got us exactly what we needed from them, so that we could get moments like this (top) to look like moments like this (bottom). Check out that legit photo bomb in the parade of foot traffic! But it was SO worth it for the final product.
5. Show Clients Why It’s Worth It
It can be frustrating for clients to stand around in the same place for a long time – especially when it’s really hot or really cold! We totally understand that, which is why it was imperative for us to show our clients what we were seeing through the lens so they’d be on board for waiting a little longer until just the right time. So, when we had an idea for a pulled back shot of our couple but couldn’t quite get it until everyone cleared, we showed them the back of our camera so they could see what we were seeing (and why we were waiting). That created buy-in from our clients and gave them an incentive to shiver in the cold for a bit longer – which they were so awesome for doing! AJ Brides are hard core!
We had a lot of questions specifically about the shot of our couple in the street. We promise, no humans were harmed in the making of these photographs! We had several people ask us if we literally ran out into the middle of the street and stopped traffic! The quick answer is no! We would never advise risking the lives of our clients for a shot. No matter how cool it might look! And we’re pretty sure the native New Yorkers wouldn’t have stopped for us anyhow!
The trick to this shot was finding two parallel crosswalks that were relatively close to each other. One for us, and one for them. When the pedestrian walk sign would turn on, we would wait and see if a taxi was at the front of the intersection at the red light or if it was just a regular car. We really wanted that “New York” look, which meant it was worth it to us to wait for a yellow taxi cab. If the light turned red, and just a regular car was at the front of the intersection, we would wait it out, and try again, until the red light stopped a taxi cab right in front of the intersection. Haley and Tom would run into the center of the crosswalk in the front crosswalk, while we would run into the parallel crosswalk that was directly behind this one. We instructed them on posing ahead of time, so that they knew exactly what to do when the time was right. Then, Jordan would shoot while Amy would audibly count down the number of remaining seconds left on crosswalk timer, so everyone knew how many seconds we had left before traffic would resume. We got about fifteen seconds per traffic light. So for as much as we’d like to pretend we stopped traffic for these shots, it was a little less glamorous than that! Hopefully this helps de-mystify our favorite shot from this session. The moral of the story? Patience, our friends! Patience! It makes all the difference in the world!
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