It is really a photo?

By: Darrell Klein

Jan 14 2007

Category: photography


Is it really a photo without a person in it?  If the answer is no, then I haven’t taken many photos lately.  The photo above with the symbol of the child on the sign is about the closest thing to a person I have photographed recently (family snapshots aside).  For some reason, I just don’t photograph people all that much.  Objects are what I feel most comfortable shooting.

I have never had anyone tell me that a photo is not a real photo unless there is a human being somewhere in the field of view.  However, if you look in many of the popular photo magazines and websites that display photography, you will find that people are a popular subject or are at least featured in many of the photos.  This might suggest that there are people that do feel this way.

I am  not trying to figure out which approach is right or wrong.  I am only making an observation about my own photography.  What are your thoughts on this subject?  Leave a comment.  I would love to hear from you.


4 comments on “It is really a photo?”

  1. Hey there. Interesting question and I think you’ve already broadly answered it in the “there is no right or wrong approach”. The magazines are ultimately businesses looking for high circulations and their content will always reflect what they believe the most attractive offering is.

    I’ve been taking photographs for a few years but only recently started dipping my toes into the whole people question. Like you, I’d always preferred (and to a large extent still do) the more obscure textures, objects, landscapes – random stuff bascially – than the idea of capturing people. For years I was very safe in the notion that people photos were not for me. Then as I became more confident in what I liked and some shots started imitating the original idea I’d had in my head the thought of doing candids became attractive (a.k.a less scary) to me.

    I think for me, it came down to confidence and being ready to put myself out there a bit more and challenge myself in a different way. That’s been my experience, may not be yours.

    Today, the question of whether people are in my shots or not isn’t so much of an issue. If I see something I like I’ll go for it. The bigger question remains whether what I saw will be replicated in the final output. Always learning.

    I leave you with this recent observation of my own. I’ve been playing around with digital for the last three years and this Christmas I decided I would compile a photobook as a present. When I was putting it together I noticed I had lots of people shots I was pleased with which pleasantly surprised me (81 actually). That got me curious so I checked through my 2005 shots and found 34 but my 2004 collection had 0.

    Funny how you fall into habits sometimes without even consciously making the choice. Main thing is to continue to get out and about with your camera enjoying the process.

  2. Thanks for the comment Stephanie. It was good to see this issue from your perspective. I do admit that some of the reason for my not photographing people comes from the fact that it lies outside of my comfort zone. Maybe I, like you, will become more comfortable with it over time. However, I really enjoy the solitude that comes with my photography.

  3. I also don’t photograph people that much (except friends and family for personal nostalgia etc.) yet… and yeah, I guess part of it is shyness. I simply *like* pictures more that don’t have people in them, because they’re, uhm, more generic, like a window through which you can look while pondering what you see. When someone is staring back at you through that window, you automatically react to that person more than to your own impression. Does that make any sense?

    I do want to do portraits eventually (just to try it), but since I still am a beginner I feel more comfortable playing around on my own without any expectations from others.

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Johann. I like the more “generic” value of a photograph without people as well. That makes total sense to me.

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