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How Close Can You Get?

This assignment ran from Jul 1 to Jul 22, 2014.

It’s not just about physical proximity when I talk about getting close in your photographs. It’s about capturing a feeling, mood, emotion, sense of intimacy. It’s that quality in a photograph that gives the viewer a feeling of being there, being in the scene, a silent, unseen observer. I call this "candid intimacy" and it’s a quality I strive for relentlessly in my photography. I love being close to my subjects. Not just physically, within touching range, but psychologically and emotionally.

For this assignment I want you to find a subject—preferably a human subject, but it’s not mandatory—and make an image that feels close. That does not mean a close-up, but surely you must be near the subject. That doesn't mean putting a 300mm lens on your camera and framing a tight face shot. I mean using a 24mm-50mm focal length, positioning yourself near the subject or within a scene, so you can capture intimacy and closeness and ultimately make an image that captures the essence of a moment, a person, or a scene. More ...

Curated by:

Ed Kashi
National Geographic Photographer
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Published Jul 30, 2014.
Thank you for your contributions!

Do You or Don't You?

Posted jul 16, 2014

Model releases are one of those necessary evils. I try to avoid them, quite frankly, but if you ever want to sell or license your images for commercial usage, and even in some cases documentary works like books, they can save you from big headaches or at the very least loss of potential income.

My rule is to not get releases unless my client requires it or the project I'm working on might be used outside of editorial realms and I want to be covered. I would add that, increasingly, there are locations and situations—such as prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutional settings— where they require it as well.

So my basic advice is that if you can get a release then get it, but don't ruin a relationship or an opportunity to make a great image by getting one.

Don't Look Now

Posted jul 13, 2014

Thanks to all those thousands of photographers around the world who have been submitting to this assignment. I have a further directive that I'd like to see folks work with. Try to capture these moments, close to your subject, and NOT have eye contact. Wait for the moment when the subject is not looking at the camera or if you're doing a portrait, don't have eye contact with the camera. For those who love animals, I"m not sure what to say! But see what you can come up with. 

Candid Camera

Posted jul 8, 2014

OK, folks, now that we've collectively uploaded over 9,000 images, I have some overall comments. In general there are too many close-up faces, and they aren't as thoughtful, candid, and "moment" capturing as I would have liked. There are a lot of close-ups of animals, things, and people, but they lack a sense of candid intimacy, meaning they aren't capturing a real and unstaged moment without feeling camera awareness.

On the positive side, there are definitely some extraordinary moments that people have captured, in some cases quite beautifully and with such feeling. Don't you find that some of the best images submitted for this assignment have been made with loved ones and people close to us?

What I want folks to do is to think more about the situations and moments you're trying to capture and to avoid just using a long or medium telephoto lens to get close—instead, move in closer physically and learn how to navigate the emotional and psychological landscapes where human (and, yes, animal) moments occur. Enter these worlds using your camera as the passport!

Keep on doing a great job, folks, and thanks for being so engaged. I'm enjoying seeing what you're all submitting and look forward to seeing more.

Thanks, Ed

What's the Mood?

Posted jun 30, 2014

When I’m working to capture intimacy, I’m always aware of the mood of a situation. Is it a happy, joyous environment or a sad, serious situation? That will dictate my behavior: how fast or slow I move in the situation, how appropriate it is for me to get close, or if I should maintain both a physical and mental distance. Or can I get very close and mix into the scene? People will always let you know by what I call a silent dance—through their eyes, sometimes their words, but most often by a feeling … It’s a sense.

To get close you must make eye contact and gain acceptance. The culture you're working in also dictates what is an appropriate distance or proximity to maintain. Invariably, if you work in a respectful, humble, and gentle manner, most cultures will accept you close to them. Gender, of course, also plays a role.

You can start by asking for permission. Quite often, if it’s a fluid scene where I haven’t had a chance to make solid contact with the subject or any other person from whom permission is needed, I’ll work silently and glide into a scene to find the right spot to be. Whenever possible, getting permission first is not only advisable but also the right thing to do. Always respect your subjects and remember you have no reason, in the normal world, to be there with a camera.

Be curious and open.

Don’t judge.

Exude warmth, comfort, and safety.

Be confident and sure of yourself. If you believe in what you’re doing, others will accept you more easily and feel comfortable with your presence.

Ed Kashi

Ed Kashi

National Geographic Photographer
Ed Kashi is an award-winning photojournalist and filmmaker who has produced 17 stories for National Geographic magazine. A pioneer in multimedia, Kashi has worked in video and film for more than a decade, documenting the social and political issues that define our times. His images have been published and exhibited worldwide, and he has received numerous honors for his work, including the UNICEF Photo of the Year award and a World Press award for his 2011 coverage of the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam.