Why it Helps to Get Closer

Common advice in street photography or photojournalism is to get closer to your subjects. Give the viewer more of a sense of being part of the scene rather than purely an observer.

Using a wide lens helps force you into closer proximity but it's not always easy or even possible. Closer proximity usually makes it more likely that you'll be noticed with a camera and prompt a reaction, which may detract from the original scene that you wanted to capture.

If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough
— Robert Capa

Capa was a photojournalist and war photographer, one of the co-founders of the Magnum photo agency, and probably best known for his images from the D-Day landings (all but eleven of which were were sadly destroyed by accident by a technician in a photo lab).

The quote above is usually used in relation to physical proximity, getting physically close to your subject. But I like to think that Capa had much more in mind. Capa wasn't just observing the D-Day landings, he was part of it. He on one of the landing crafts, running alongside the soldiers, risking his life to document the event.

I once heard Joe McNally talk about a project or assignment he was working on to photograph a bar. He went first without even taken his camera. To get to know the patrons and allow them toget to know him and establish some trust. He was taking the time needed to get closer to the story.

Emotional proximity. And, to an extent I think, empathy. Getting closer means gaining a better understanding of the story and sharing in it in some form. Having a desire to tell the story for the sake of the subjects, not just for the sake of the images. It's one of the reasons I think Humans of New York has been so successful. It's not the quality of the images but the stories and the connection with the subjects that even a few words from them can provide.

We might not be Robert Capa or be willing to put our lives at risk, but we can still engage, ask questions, listen and understand a little more about our subjects, their lives and their circumstances.

Guatemala City, 2016

Guatemala City, 2016

Guatemala City, 2016

Guatemala City, 2016

Guatemala City, 2016

Guatemala City, 2016