It can very tricky to pho­tog­ra­phy a per­son speak­ing in Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage. I get lots of prac­tice with my RIT, NTID, Rochester School for the Deaf Shoots and thought I’d men­tion a few things that might help some­one.

Hon­est­ly, part of it is shoot­ing lots of frames. ASL is a fast mov­ing, arm-wav­ing expe­ri­ence, so it’s easy to get blurred shots. One of the tough­est things is that the lan­guage is so expres­sive (due to how much mean­ing is con­veyed by expres­sion since there is lit­tle voic­ing), and you can get some real­ly awful expres­sions as well. Sort of like when some­one is real­ly into singing or danc­ing and their face makes sense if you are their live, but as a frozen frame… it can be nasty.

Here’s a series I shot at the RIT Cel­e­bra­tion of Schol­ar­ship. This stu­dent is (I believe) the incom­ing stu­dent gov­ern­ment pres­i­dent, and real­ly live­ly & ter­rif­ic.

And this is just a few of the frames… with the worst ones cut.

How’d I do… well, I know I got one or two OK shots, and I wouldn’t use this one…

as the sign (and expres­sion) is too close to ‘Where’s the toi­lette’… although she’s obvi­ous­ly not say­ing that! But it does bring up the issue that know some sign is not only use­ful in life, but helps in edit­ing. And when you are shoot­ing, you can catch some pos­i­tive signs that pho­to­graph well like ‘Thank You’ ‘I’ ‘Con­grat­u­la­tions’, ‘Love’… that kin­da stuff.

This one is just plain bad:

So learn some sign, shots lots of frames and try to get in synch with your speak­er and her expres­sions. The best news is that it does lead to great expres­sive images with lots of ges­tur­ing, which we shoot­ers all love.

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