People who need people

“Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
Say, who are the people in your neighborhood?
The people that you meet each day.”

– Sesame Street song “People in your neighborhood” by Jeffery Moss

When I judged the San Joaquin County Fair’s Adult Photography show in June, landscapes, animals and close-ups of flowers were among the strongest pictures entered. There were some of those divisions where almost every picture could have been a winner. However, the weakest and least entered categories were those that involved people, with only a few rising to the level of award winners. Maybe it’s because I’m in the business of photographing people everyday and sometimes I can take it for granted that it can be a hard thing to do.

Against a backdrop of cloudy skies Mike Halligan with the Stockton Park and Recreation department repairs to the chain link fence surrounding the softball complex at Louis Park in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/20 w/ fill-flash. ISO: 200).

It’s a skill that can be developed. Although, I photograph people in all kinds of situations, I’m not a natural at making a connection. My normal tendencies lean toward shyness and don’t include sparkling witty conversation.  I work at it every day and I’ve learned to overcome my inherent introvertedness.

Kyle Morton of Manteca cooks peppersteak sandwiches at the Manteca Street Faire in downtown Manteca (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/7.1. ISO: 200).

Photographing people, especially strangers, is more difficult than one might think. In addition to having a good eye, a photographer has to have good people skills. They have to be able to make their subjects feel comfortable and at home in front of the lens even though that lens may be just a few feet away from their faces. The gift of gab certainly helps.

13-year-old Ray Alonzo, left, and 11-year-old Jacob Peraza cool off on an inflatable water slide at Alonzo’s home on Shimizu Drive near Wilshire Avenue in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200).

I’ve seen how easy it is for others. My friend Charr Crail is a great photographer and one of the most creative people I know. I’m always in awe of how easily she makes a connection with her subjects.

Cloudy skies move in from the east as Lena Yazzi of Stockton and her 6-month-son Luis Mendez enjoy a day in the park at the Weber Point Event Center in downtown Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/22 w/ fill-flash. ISO: 100).

When I first started at The Record 25 years ago, I watched as veteran photographer the late Dave Evans shot a basic headshot in the studio. He quickly found something in common with his subject and held a conversation to put him at ease. The shoot didn’t take long, but what Dave did has stayed with me ever since then.

Oakview 4H-ers Audrianna Azevedo, 12, left, and Makenna Wagers, 12, right, braids the hair of bailey Roberts, 13, in her goat pen in the livestock barn at the San Joaquin Couty Fairgrounds in Stockton. Sheep, goat and swine livestock entries arrived on Sunday June 14 (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400).

When photographing strangers, the best method is to be as direct and honest as possible. Just go up to them, tell them what you’re doing. Nothing ventured, nothing lost.  The worst thing they can do is say no. I’ve found that the residents of Stockton and San Joaquin County are by and large open to having their photos taken. Of the probably thousands of strangers that I’ve photographed, only a few have turned me down. Talk with them and ask them questions. Everyone has something to say, a story about themselves and/or what they do. It’s what the newspaper stories are built on.

Artist Flora Anderiasian is seen through a cutout of a new mural she is painting in the medieval castle at Pixie Woods in Stockton. Anderiasian was part of a crew readying the children’s amusement park for its opening this weekend (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/11 w/ fill-flash. ISO: 200). has a video on how New York-based photographer Clay Enos sets up an impromptu studio to shoot portraits of people on the street. He talks about not only some of the technical aspects, but how he approaches his subjects to make them feel at ease.

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