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Why Photograph People in Spaces?
Spaces are meant to be occupied by people. While empty places have a sense of timelessness, people in a space give it liveliness and instantly relate its story to us, allowing us to identify with the experience of that particular space.
For the sake of simplicity, let's divide this subject into 3 categories and look at each one: Architectural Photography with People, Lifestyle Photography in Spaces, and Environmental Portraits. The question we need to answer is what story do we need to tell?
Architectural Photography with People
There has been a long history of architectural photography that depicts spaces devoid of the users they were meant for. This is a powerful and effective approach to show architectural and design details, yet the addition of people or animals can greatly enhance the story’s aesthetic. While the main focus must remain on the structure and design, the human element gives the space a sense of energy and shares that story with the viewer. We are invited into the space to experience the function and meaning of the structures and design on a deeper emotional level.
"As an architectural photographer I use the shapes of the structures and the design elements to find the most harmonious camera angle. Then, while working with the natural light of the space, I will add complementary lighting, people and design elements. I look for a beautiful or interesting interplay of the natural and added lighting as well as personal gesture to enhance the presentation of the space and draw the viewer deeper into the experience."
Lifestyle Photography in Spaces
The focus of lifestyle photography is on people's actions rather than on the space they are in. While the structure and design provide important compositional elements and create the setting, the story is centered on the action of the people in the space. This type of photography is often used by businesses to share their story with potential clients - creating an emotional connection and familiarity with the company and process.
Great examples of this type of work are a boardroom conference in a law office, or a veterinarian compassionately examining a pet in a clinic. "Again we consider the space to find the best point of view and lighting scenario, but then the focus is on the subjects. The lighting and composition emphasize their presence and their actions; then we work to draw out meaningful gestures."
Environmental portraits revolve completely around the subject and the space is used in a supporting roll to telling the person's story. It allows us to see a bigger picture, which quickly communicates not only the character of people but also what they do. Often used in editorial assignments, it has become popular in business assignments to quickly communicate with potential clients.
"I love working with people and bringing out their personality in my photographs. It all starts by making people comfortable in front of the camera and then engaging them in a dialog to get a variety of expressions we are aiming for. I use lighting, props and space to complement the story, whether soft, dramatic, or in between.” — David Hartig, Photographer