Photojournalist Elisabeth Blanchet’s best advice: "Take your time with subjects"

Elisabeth Blanchet is captured through the windowpane of a house, curtains framing the shot.
A portrait of French documentary photographer Elisabeth Blanchet, whose long-term projects include the documentation of Irish and Romani traveller communities in the UK. © Tom Broadbent

"Each situation is peculiar, so remain vigilant and observant," says documentary photographer Elisabeth Blanchet. "Photography is a succession of unique decisive moments."

The French photographer is best known for her long-term projects – in particular, an archive of British post-war prefabricated homes, and her on-going documentation of life on Irish and Romani traveller sites all over the UK.

Being able to produce a good narrative requires time and patience – behind a great image there is often a long story.

"Time is money, but not when it comes to how I consider photography. For me, it’s all about telling stories through images. Each image has its place, its importance within a story. Some can even be strong enough to tell their own story. Being able to produce a good narrative requires time and patience. For me, behind a great image there is often a long story.

"If you work on your own long-term projects, how can you produce a good result if you haven’t spent time with your subjects; if you haven’t taken the time to photograph them in different places, situations; if you haven’t listened to their ideas, suggestions, and taken them into consideration?"

An Irish traveller girl sits in the entrance to a caravan, during an eviction from the land they were living on.
Elisabeth shot this picture of a young girl while covering seven Irish traveller families being evicted by bailiff company Constant & Co in Hovefields, Basildon. Shot on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens. © Elisabeth Blanchet

"Even if the project or the story you are photographing is not long-term – reportage or a portrait – you will need to take the necessary time to meet the people involved, to find a way to connect with them and gain their trust. Never forget that photographing someone is ‘taking’ their picture. They are giving you their image and if you want them to do their best, they will have to trust you.

"Be patient. Sometimes, you might find yourself in tricky situations when your subjects are not in the mood for posing because of personal reasons or unplanned events. In this case, don’t insist. Keep your camera in your bag and if it feels needed, just be a human being, a listener or an adviser, rather than a photographer. If you are offered drinks or food, take the time to sit at the table, to listen to your subjects – they have become your hosts. This is an excellent way to get closer to them, more intimate. Don’t think that not taking pictures is synonymous with wasting time. On the contrary, see it as a necessary step to get better images the next time around."

For more game-changing advice from professional photographers,
visit our stories page.

Written by Emma-Lily Pendleton

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