More than snapshots

Amateur photographers, beware: the “snatch and run” technique may re­duce your chances of producing a memorable travel record.

By furtively whipping out a camera, snapping a photo, and scampering away, photographers can actually make their subjects more uncomfortable than if they had approached them directly, according to photographer instructor Nathan Horton.

“Be brave enough to acknowledge what you’re doing,” said the 39-year-old British national. “Think that you’re creating something, rather than ‘capturing’ something-taking something away.”

Horton offers such hands-on advice during his weekly travel photography courses in Phnom Penh. A seasoned freelance photographer from London, Horton spent two years touring Asia and settled in Cambodia last October.

His one-off, afternoon-long classes have attracted both expatriates and tourists passionate about documenting their experiences abroad.

“We have a travel blog and…thought the pay-off of the course would be better pictures,” said Holly Telerant, 33, a lawyer from the US who attended Horton’s class last month with her boyfriend.

The class begins with a two-hour lecture on the technical elements of photography, covering the use of film speed, focal length, aperture and shutter speed in different settings, as well as basic principles of composition.

Those with SLR or function-laden compact cameras are most likely to benefit from the exhaustive overview. For the owners of simpler point-and-shoots that cannot make such precise adjustments, the technical information seems less useful.

By far the most valuable part of the lecture tackles the foreigners’ dilemma of photographing strangers abroad, where barriers of language, culture and class can leave both photographer and subject feeling uneasy.

Horton makes it a rule to acquire some form of permission from his subjects: even brief eye contact and a simple head nod can make for more natural portraits. If the photographer is relaxed, after a few minutes, people seem to forget he or she is even there.

“People are busy-they have things to do, lives to get back to,” Horton said. “In the end, it’s just a photo.”

Students get a chance to try these techniques first-hand during the second half of the class, visiting Kandal market, Saravoan pagoda and the Boeng Kak lakeside under the instructor’s watch.

After a few hours of shooting fruit sellers, monks and sunsets, Rob Blau, an American, was beginning to warm to Horton’s suggestions.

“You have to get in there, get close and personal,” said the 30-year-old computer programmer. “When you smile and act confident, everyone responds well to it.”


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