People – U.S.

Eric, Ryan and Mae

Eric and his two Guiding Eyes dogs, Ryan (current) and Mae (deceased)

September 27, 2014

People are my favorite photographic subjects. They’re also, for me, the hardest to photograph. Some photograph well; others don’t. I think a large part of good people photography is the rapport that’s developed or present between the subject and the photographer. This is even more important when photographing people you don’t know, or doing nude photography (There is one nude photograph in this post – at the bottom – so if you are the parent of a minor and don’t wish your child to view it, or you don’t wish to view it yourself, don’t scroll to the absolute bottom. I can assure you it’s a very tasteful photograph taken in a studio setting). There is a need to build trust in a short period of time and to make the subject feel comfortable and not threatened with their personal space.

A large zoom lens makes photographing some subjects easier. You can catch them in their natural environment doing what they do without the feeling that they have to pose, or act in a certain way. More of my international people photography is done in this way. Not because I want to hide from them, but because I want to capture them “in the moment” free from the constraints that can sometimes be imposed by a lens being pointed in their face.

Culture plays a part in this – even within one’s own society. I try to be conscious of cultural sensitivities or the understandable discomfort and mistrust that can arise when a westerner with an expensive camera is clicking away in often poor, rural areas where I’ve done much of my travel and work. Children have less hesitation. But I also try to be sensitive to that, as well. If adults are present they may not want their children photographed. There are cultural reasons for this, but many places I go there are also significant societal concerns surrounding how that photography will be used.  Issues of child prostitution and enslavement, and posting of pictures to the world in this digital age can contribute to the photographer being seen as exploitative. This isn’t irrational behavior on their part. It occurs all the time.

There is the added challenge of people wanting money to have their picture taken.  This is a lengthy debate I could write about for paragraphs. I’d prefer not to do that here and rather send you on to viewing the people photography in this post (U.S. subjects) and in my next post (international). I won’t pay people to take their photo.  That doesn’t mean I won’t return a favor in some form, or give them a pencil or pen, paper, candy, or something else of mine. Those are all favorites, I’ve found, especially in the poor rural areas of the world. But the gift or favor is never something that is assumed before the photograph is taken. Many of my subjects I’ve lived or worked with, developed a casual acquaintance, or have engaged in trustful dialogue before asking to take their picture (that is, apart from those taken with a zoom lens in order to capture a particular “moment”). Many times I just don’t take the picture. I haven’t taken many of my best pictures because of this issue, or because of cultural or social sensitivities. I always say that the best pictures I’ve take were those I never took. Those are the ones, like our life experiences and memories, that are all ours and no one can take them from us.

Isn’t that part of what makes each of us a legend in our own minds?  😉

I welcome your thoughts.  Enjoy!

Karen Elizabeth Jack Jimmy

My dear friends: (from left) Karen, Elizabeth, Jack and Jimmy. This picture was taken in Missouri during my motorcycle trip around the United States in 2013. To see more photographs and read from my travelogue from that trip through 26 states over a 2 1/2 month period, click here.

Gas Station Museum

Talking with Johnnie Meier at his museum of gas station memorabilia in New Mexico. Read more about Johnnie and his work in preserving historic Route 66 in one of my blog posts from my motorcycle trip around the U.S. Click here.

Navajo children

Navajo children greeting me during one of my stops with the Honor Riders in Arizona. They loved my purple motorcycle!  Read about my time with the Honor Riders here.

Oil Change

At the quick-lube, getting my oil changed.

Cowgirl with Cellphone

Cowgirl with cellphone at the rodeo in Montana.

Here are a couple more rodeo photos. The women were the ones who could really ride!  See more photos from the rodeo by clicking here.

Rodeo Girl

Rodeo Boys

DL Moss

With D.L. Moss in the Flint Hills of Kansas. See more pictures, read and hear stories from this character I met during my motorcycle trip around the U.S. by clicking here.

Watching the Waves

Here are a couple of swimsuit pictures. This first one taken at Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.


And this one taken at the finish line of an Alcatraz Island race in San Francisco.

Finnish Acordian

Finnish-American accordion player at the Finnish Cultural Festival on the Upper Peninsula, Michigan.

At the Diner

Breakfast at the diner with the boys.

Secrets of Collard Greens

Getting a lesson in cooking collard greens from my friend, Charles Hill. Watch how Charles does it by clicking here.


One absolute triathlon stud: Amy VanTassel in Portland, Oregon.

Elisa - Italia

My beautiful daughter, Elisa.

Getting Help from Stanley

Stanley Lynde (background) – the most capable motorcycle mechanic in the Upper Valley, and the only one I allow to touch my motorbike – with a client at his shop. Check out Lynde Motorsport here.


Peace, love and food at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival.


Dancing on Marcel’s flat boat with Hal and Lois after a glorious long-distance swim with Hal in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Harris Hill

Yuya Yamada at the annual Harris Hill ski jump in Brattleboro, Vermont. See more Harris Hill pictures here.


In the studio with Celestine

Next post: People (International)


All content copyrighted © Stephen Tavella

2 thoughts on “People – U.S.

  1. I am pretty much interested in Photography. what i understand is that you are very professional photographer.
    Proud of you Steve.

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