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Photographing Wealth and Poverty

Updated on September 25, 2014
Public Domain CC0 CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)
Public Domain CC0 CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) | Source

Like emotions, social and economic standings of societal classes can be captured in photographs, and these images can send a powerful message, one which is often used by social agencies and a host of non-profit organizations, private industry, wealth managers, economist as well as some government entities.

Obtaining these types of images can be an easy task but very dependent on your choice of representative subjects.

Photographing affluent or poor neighborhoods or expensive and low income housing is rather easy, it can even be done from inside your car. However, photographing people, especially if their social and economic status is less than ideal can offer many obstacles.

To represent wealth and poverty will often require a combination of subjects and different situations. One needs to photograph a variety of subjects ranging from people, houses, living conditions and many other elements to fully represent the theme.

There are exceptions to this rule however, and some images can be so exceptionally composed that by themselves fully represent the idea.

Approach your subjects and be upfront about your intentions and if needs be offer them assurances that the images will be used for your stated purposes. You will find that more often than not, you will be allowed to take the shots so long as they are done with sensibility and respect for your subjects.

If you shots will include property, please remember to ask for permission, especially if the dwelling can be recognized. Private houses are not free to photograph even if they can be seen from the road/public property as privacy laws enter the picture.

This issue can get even more confusing if the photographs are of the living spaces , like the patio, pool etc. or if people can be seen in the photo, it's simpler just to ask.

Although you may not need to be very sensible when photographing people of a wealthier setting, since they may be used to the attention, the same may not hold true for those of lower economic standards and you should be sensitive to their needs and feelings, and gain their trust through communication, since an image is not worth offending your subject.

Do always remember to capture images that are posed and un-posed and in various settings; your goal is to show wealth or poverty with an image and a good practice exercise is to ask yourself when focusing on the shot "does this image say wealth?" and the same holds true for poverty elements.

Consider using a black & white format if you wish to make a stronger statement or to add drama since this medium is very good for this, especially for capturing texture and details in shadows. The opposite for luxury as colors brings highlights more into focus and adds interest.

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) | Source

Pay attention to details like the hands, as very few elements can say so much about the life of the person as their hands. Facial features are also a good focusing point. Wrinkles and the effects of the Sun can also be very telling. Take shots of the subject's surroundings, clothing, make up and hair. Jewelry or lack of it. The eyes make powerful statements too so don't forget them. Shoes and other accessories can also be used. Pay attention to little details such as dusty surfaces or spotless ones. Tools of the trade, vehicles as well as any habits which offer the opportunity to tell a story.

A note of caution; limit your images of people to adults, if possible and only include children if you strongly feel that capturing these images are necessary for your purpose, since images of children can have a negative effect on the viewer of the images as well as on the subjects themselves.

This theme can be a good source for book publishers, general photography publications, an art gallery display and can also be used in social campaigns marketing. Contact the appropriate agencies and publications for guidelines and submission procedures as well as a list of restricted material and those subjects which are in demand before your start your work.


© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 6 years ago from Sweden

      Thanks for pointing out what to think about. Even though it should be obvious it isn't, at least not for someone like me who just takes photos without thinking so much on the message. You are showing me a different way to use a camera and I know my photos will improve by reading your great hubs!


    • Radioguy profile image

      Radioguy 6 years ago from Maine

      I'm glad you mentioned color in the hub. I think color can sometimes take away what a picture is trying to say.

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 6 years ago from Central United States

      One of the most beautiful shots I have ever seen was the picture of a farm child taken in the late thirties in black and white. There was no question in my mind that it was taken by a consummate professional. It was about the child as much as the background. It looked like the child wasn't posed yet without taking many pictures I don't see how this could have been pulled off. The background said as much as anything, it was just a short crop and a dirt driveway with a very short distance showing. The picture was taken at an angle from height.

      As for poverty or wealth I have lived in both worlds and shot pictures of both as an amateur. The most surprising to me was the man who had $30,000,000 in the bank but lived as a middle class citizen. He did not like or want his picture taken.

    • profile image

      anidae 6 years ago

      I voted up and awesome. I can see through the pictures how hard writing this hub might be as the picture of the child in what appeared to be a parking garage ripped into my heart! Your pictures are super.

      I learned a lot from this hub.I didn't realize that you shouldn't take pictures of homes without permission. Justom had a thoughtful comment about Google Earth not getting permission to take pictures of homes but there are always some people or groups who think the law or common courtesy doesn't apply to them.

    • justom profile image

      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      I think I have that print tucked away somewhere, I'll dig it up and scan it. That's what was good about the b&W stuff,I did print most of that work. I totally agree with your statement about the egos.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

      Great picture and wonderful tips. Thanks for this information.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Justom: I have always found it intriguing when wealthy folk are more than willing to let you photograph them, it seems to be an ego trip, sort of flaunting. However, with less than wealthy folk I have always found them to be genuinely amicable to having their shots taken. I guess it's just a "down to earth" good nature sensibility that poverty brings to some.

      PS: Can you post that photo?

      I guess is true when it is said that "money can't buy you happiness"

    • justom profile image

      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Great hub Luis, years ago on a trip to Philadelphia I was walking through a park and saw an old guy sitting on a bench who looked just like a statue. He sat still, totally unaware of everything going on around him. I was so taken aback that I knew I needed to get a shot of him so rather than take for granted I could I just walked up and asked him if he'd mind. With very few words he agreed and to this day it is one of my favorite B&W shots. I did give him a few dollars for his time and told him I appreciated his generosity. I have no interest in photographing wealthy folks, I get along much better with the other side of the spectrum (plus it's just more interesting). As for shooting homes I don't think that's such a big deal, after all I can't remember Google Earth asking anyone if they could do it :-P Nice work Luis, you always remind me of some of the fun times I've had taking pictures! Peace!! Tom

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      marellen: It not difficult if you approach it with humbleness and sensibility

    • profile image

      marellen 6 years ago

      Good hub Luis....I think you covered it well. I don't know if I could take pics of the poverty side though but I'm glad there are photographers who can. The public sometimes needs reminders.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Thanks Lynn, you know I was not too comfortable writing this piece, but glad you enjoyed it.

    • profile image

      Lynn S. Murphy 6 years ago

      Great tips Luis. I sometimes have problems "intruding". However, I've made some new friends by asking. What a concept eh? Up and awesome!