Behind The Scenes

Sometimes shooting people can be a real challenge.

Not too long ago I billed myself as a wildlife photographer and that was all I took pictures of; wildlife, only.  Nowadays, being in the travel writing line of business, I’ve had to change a few of the things I carry around in my camera bag.  I probably should change my biography on a few dozen websites, too.  Maybe, I should call myself an outdoors photographer and travel writer.

When you go to shoot a story with people in it, it’s not only the lenses on the camera that need to be changed, it’s the whole way you approach the subject.  Wild critters, you can research them before or after the fact, go shoot and get the job done.  When you’re doing a people story, you need a whole new bag of tricks.

A wild critter catches you taking his picture, the worst thing that can happen is (usually, they run or fly away) they rip a leg off of you or maybe even kill you.  Humans, on the other hand can do even more; they can bring a Lawsuit against you and make you miserable for the rest of your life!

Print Magazines and some online magazines Require Model Releases.

In dealing with several publishers over the past year, I’ve learned to carry a pile of realease forms in my camera bags and get the subjects of my photos to sign them.  Quality magazines won’t accept your photos without a release, signed by any and all recognizable persons appearing in them.  Right now, most Blogs don’t require releases.  It’s probably just a matter of time before they’ll insist on having them, too.  All it will take is the first million dollar lawsuit a subject is awarded over a photo they didn’t want posted all over the world wide web.  So, to be on the safe side, I take lots of people pictures and I get lots of release forms signed.

Before and After the Photo Above.

Whether you are the writer or photographer doing an article like The Shinugu Matsuri plan on spending weeks or months preparing yourself for the story. Being a foreigner, just breezing into some remote village, snapping a few photos and asking a couple of people questions for an article won’t give you much to write about.

This particular event was something that only happens once, every two years. Months prior to the festival, I began making visits to the village and months afterwards, I’m still going back. I make liaison with the people, getting them used to the foreigner with the cameras and people with me asking questions.

When they recognize you and know you by name, you get much more cooperation whether trying to get a story or a photo. People who know you will be more relaxed and act naturally around the camera, not stiffen up or be shy and they will also give you a more detailed story.

Caption Months After The Photo Above

Published in a featured article at Go Nomad, this photo is one I’ll never forget.  It was taken 22AUG2009 at 12:56PM, using a Manfrotto 725B Tripod, Pentax 18mm, Cable Release, Spot-metered and panning.  f/11  1/60  ISO 100. The rituals being performed only occur once every two years. It was the Shinugu Matsuri (Festival) in Ada Kunigami Okinawa, Japan.  For me, it was a twenty hour day.  I had a translator on the assignment with me.  I gave her around 50 Model Release Forms, all in Japanese.  I wanted to concentrate on shooting, only.  And I tried to make my shots with as few recognizable faces as possible.  The next day, I found out, we had no Release Forms signed.  Almost six weeks later, we went back to the village and found, Furugen, the man with the drum.  I gave him a print of my favorite shot that day.  He smiled and bowed.  And he signed a Release !

A Work in Progress.

With five or six trips to Ada, the remote village this festival takes place at, I continue stopping by every few months or so and visit the friends I’ve made.  By the time the next big event rolls around in August 2011, I should be able to get a story like none you’ve ever seen before.

Just have to practice being the man behind the scenes.


8 Responses to “Behind The Scenes”

  1. March 8, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Interesting stuff! So do you get every single person you snap to sign a form, or do you only do it for photos you think might be sellable? And if that’s the case, how the hell do you decide on the spot?!

  2. March 8, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Rule of thumb, lots of places where it’s considered a public event, if there are over 16 people in the shot or you shoot a movie star, politician, mayor; no release required.

    One or a few individuals and you’re going to sell their photo, a release is mandatory. I get them all the time or I shoot where the person can’t be identified.

    It’s challenging sometimes. In Japan, most of the time, I shoot first and ask later. You’d be surprised at how many people cooperate and how thrilled they are when I email them their photo or a link to an article where they’ve been published.

    If enough people show an interest, I’ll dig up some links to post here on Release forms. The rules are pretty much standard in the US, UK, wherever you go.


  3. March 8, 2010 at 11:24 am

    I love the idea of a secret festival. I think you’re wise to keep going back so they’ll get to know you. You’re right – next time around you’ll probably be able to get an even better story and photos than you did the first.

    • March 8, 2010 at 12:32 pm

      Thanks, you’re right. Last time I visited I got an invite to stay at a Bed and Breakfast for the next big event. Beats sleeping the way I did at the last festival.

      My translator and her two sons got my tent. I slept on a concrete slab with an empty 1.5 liter green tea bottle under my neck as a pillow.

      Only thing I worry about, though, if you do a big well-published article on something like this; it won’t be a secret, anymore.


  4. March 8, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Useful info here, Mike. I’d be interested in more info on release forms. There’s a standard, I imagine?

    • March 8, 2010 at 12:45 pm

      Let’s see if this gadget lets me post a link here for you:


      Hope it works. This is just basics but, enough to get you started. I’ll see what else I can dig up for everyone. The rules for when releases are required are pretty standard throughout the world, much like copyright laws; international treaties and agreements make them that way.

      Newspapers or any publication considered editorial in nature are just about exempt from the legal requirements. But magazines, advertisers, anybody who’s going to make money off the photos is not exempt. Releases are mandatory, not just for models; children, pets, property and some art, require releases for publishing.

      I’m glad to see the interest generated here. It’ll give me plenty of ideas for future posts. Keep the questions coming!


  5. 7 Beverly J Struble
    March 8, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Dear Michael- Thanks for always being a WEALTH of information- one rally gets a sense of what all is involved in a project like this- to the causal observer and for the “students” like me- Good luck with this- B

  6. March 8, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    Thanks for dropping-in. My plan actually was to seperate my blogs. Make this my travel writing one and THE OTHER Thing my photorgaphy blog but, I’m learning something myself, while trying to do it. They’ve both become such a part of my life; they’re inseparable.

    Keep coming back. Get to know the rest of the people here and pick their brains. I share my camera tips; they dwarf me with their writing.


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