Shooting in Dynamic Situations and Crowds

If you look at the portfolios of contributors, you will notice that each individual gravitates toward certain subjects and styles. When I critique my own set of images, it's obvious that I am heavy into editorial type images. Apparently there is something about me that is able to sniff out sales with these types of images.

As a result, I many times find myself in crowds and other situations where everything is dynamic. You are at a mercy to events as they happen, weather, light conditions, etc. There is no ability to stage the scene, arrange for composition, alter the weather, or move the sun to another position. You have no control over what happens.

Here is a list of things I have learned that may help you when attempting to get that money shot:

1. The Space you Take Up: I'm not the only photographer who has the idea of attending an event, and they're easy to spot. Some will have two or three cameras hung around their neck, zoom lenses sticking out, a bag, and so on. They take up a lot of space and increase their chances of things getting bumped when walking through crowds of people. My advice is to pack as little as possible. It's easier to maneuver through crowds and you minimize the chances of damage to your equipment. I use a small backpack and even that gets in the way of people walking by or hinders my ability to work through openings in the crowd.

2. Hype: Some events, the people will be "worked up." In the spring I attended an American Idol event; a local kid was in the final three and he came home to make the rounds and also to perform in an impromptu show. Since it was all very last minute, there was little organization and people were frustrated. This was one of those things where "people had to be there" and everyone was jockeying their way through the crowd. It was overcrowded and people were angry, one reason being that some arrived early but others were moving in front of them. The bottom line is this: If you have a right to be there just as much as anyone else, then stand your ground if you have to. That doesn't mean get into a fight or worse, but no one has the right to tell you what you're supposed to do no more than you have to tell them. In other words, be prepared for bad tempers and intimidation. It's a fine line between avoiding trouble and pushy people pushing you around.

3. When You're a Guest: Some events are free and open to the public but at the same time you clearly do not belong. I recently attended a Native American Pow Wow and a White-Guy-With-Camera really sticks out. The people there were clearly enjoying being among those who shared their culture; since it is free and open to the public you are truly welcome to come participate and/or watch but you have to be respectful of why these people are here. You just have to feel your way through and learn what the boundaries are. Even with a generic crowd you don't just stick a camera in someones face, with something like this even more so because you're the oddball in the group. As long as you're not disrupting anything you will be welcome.

4. You Will Get Bad Pictures: Every time I do something like this I just want to scream GET OUT OF THE WAY! People walk in front of you. If you're taking a picture of people, they move, they turn around, they rub their nose with their finger. The light will be bad. The background will ruin the shot; it seems anything interesting always happens in front of an emergency door with a big EXIT sign over it. Indoor venues will have terrible light conditions. Outdoor settings, the sun will always be in the wrong place. My advice: "Deal with it." If it's a multi-day event, look at your images in the evening and go back the next day armed with the things you learned about shooting in that venue. If you walk away with one, single, usable image, it will have been worth the time. Two or more images are bonus. Keep your expectations low.

5. Don't Move!: What I mean about not moving is this: If you've been in a spot shooting, even for just a few seconds, DO NOT MOVE WHEN YOU ARE DONE. For that instant of time, you have been focused on a subject and looking through the viewfinder. You have not been paying attention to what is happening around you. LOOK BEFORE YOU MOVE AGAIN. The dynamics of the space you're in may have changed! You start moving without looking, you just may step on a baby or find your camera covered with beer.

6. Watch What You're Doing: There is a reason why some people hate crowds. Could it be people like YOU who are the reason? Little things of human nature can really make crowds a hassle. For instance, and this happens all the time, people will be moving through a breezeway or doorway and when they enter the main part of the venue, they stop to take it all in. Breezeways and doorways are already natural bottlenecks for traffic and it's making a bad situation worse when people stop right in the middle of traffic. If you need to get your bearings, step off to the side and get out of the way of everyone else. Photographers stick out in a crowd as it is, be aware of what you're doing. Annoying the people around you will only bring contempt upon you. A percentage will already be in a bad mood for whatever reason, with some of them looking for trouble. If you're in the way or not paying attention, people will have a right to be angry with you.

7. Explore Everything: Some events have a primary focus such as a stage act. In that case you may want to work your as close to the stage as possible. Other events will have featured areas with peripheral situations. With these types of events, try to go everywhere and look at everything as is feasible. You will sometimes be surprised what is available a mere 20 feet from where you stand that you would have missed had you not actually walked that 20 feet.

Well, that's about it for this blog, and I hope it helps some of you in those dynamic situations. A lot of this is common sense but you will be frustrated and you have to be careful not to be caught up in the moment. You will always be in the worst spot possible many times and unable to move to another location. You have to be aware and respectful of the people around you. Some people are having a bad day and you need to think and react quickly and correctly if a situation arises. Respect and awareness to what you're doing will go a long way in working in crowds and dynamics situations. Don't forget to have fun, too!

Here's an editorial with some sales and I DIDN'T have to deal with people! :-)

Photo credits: Wisconsinart.

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October 26, 2009


Great article!

October 26, 2009


fantastic blog with sound advice thanks !! :)

October 26, 2009


Some good ideas, thanks. Another thing one can do is try position yourself against an immovable object, for example a lamp post or other object that people would normally have to walk around anyway, that way you take up less of their space and become less obtrusive.

October 25, 2009


Great blog! Thanks for the info :0)

October 25, 2009


excellent blog, thanks so much for that info :)

October 25, 2009


Well thought out advice. I always hated too ig a crowd. Maybe this will change now.

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