This week a friend asked me what my favourite photography subject is. After our talk I decided to post this rewrite of an article I wrote some time ago.
I enjoy photographing just about anything. Nevertheless, I’d have to answer that I probably take pleasure in photographing people the most.
I’ve been employed doing many types of photography since I began earning my living as a photographer in the 1970’s. I have done different kinds of photographic work for all types of organizations; however, I have found myself photographing people most of the time.
That’s not that unique; I think most photography is really about people. We take pictures of our family, friends, and people at celebrations and other events.
When I taught photography in the 1980s I would ask the question about a favourite subject of my students and “people” was a rare response. However, since the introduction of digital cameras and the relaxed point and shoot style many employ today, I’ll bet people photography ranks near the top as a reply.
If indeed, as I confessed to my friend, my favourite subject is people, I suppose I might put together a few tips for him and my readers on my favourite subject.
I quickly jotted down 10 suggestions to help readers be successful when photographing people.
- When you take pictures of people look at them and pay attention to their appearance so you ensure they look their best for the photograph. Don’t just rapidly snap away and realize later that you should have had your subject adjust something, e.g., a necklace, glasses, or especially that tie.
- Choose interesting and flattering angles or points of view. Also try three-quarter poses of single subjects. By that I mean that the person turns their body so that they view the camera from over their shoulder.
- Focus on the subject’s eyes. When we talk to people we make eye contact. There is a greater chance of your subject liking the photo if their eyes are sharp and not closed or looking away. Ensure that subjects smile or at least have a pleasant look. In my experience when subjects say they want a serious photo without a smile they appear sour or unhappy in the final photo. Do one of each as a compromise.
- I don’t like lenses shorter than 85mm. My favourite is 105mm. (Although recently I have been choosing my 70-200mm.) Longer focal length lenses always create a flattering perspective.
- For photographing one or two people an aperture of f/4 or wider will soften the background and make your subject stand out, but for group photos use an aperture of at least f/8 or smaller to increase the depth of field.
- Pay attention to your subject’s background especially when doing outdoor portraitures. You don’t want the photo to appear to have something growing out of a person’s head (e.g. like a stop sign), or have objects in your photograph that are distracting.
- Watch out for uncomplimentary shadows created by the sun, your flash, or other light sources.
- Get things ready first. Contemplate the poses before you photograph your subject. The best way to bore people and loose the moment is to make them wait.
- Tighten up the shot. Again, get rid of unwanted elements in the photograph that do nothing for it. If there is more than one person make them get close together.
- Talk to your subjects. The most successful portrait photographers are those who talk to and interact with their subjects. We are dealing with people and we communicate by talking. Don’t hide behind the camera.
And as always be positive about the photograph you are about to make. Get excited. Your excitement will be contagious and affect those around you.
Good points all. I agree with your lens choice but sometimes you may not have enough room for a head and shoulders shot in tight locations. I had to use a small supply room for a studio when doing on-location portraits so I carried a normal focal length lens with me. It wasn’t the best but it’ll do in a pinch.
You are so right lightscatter, There are unfortunate times when a longer focal length just isn’t possible.
The included photograph of Kevin (the cowboy) leaning against the bales of hay is an example of that. The original is a full length and I was forced to use a 24-70mm on my cropped sensor DSLR because there wasn’t enough room in the barn.
I am not so keen on portraits but love doing candids of people and my 18-55 zoom is fab for that.
I agree fragg, the 18-55 is an excellent lens for candids of family and friends. However, that short focal length lens would never be my choice if someone asked me to make a portrait of them. Most portraits are 3/4 length shots and but the time one moved in close enough with that other wise versatile lens, the curvature of the front element isn’t as flattering as a longer lens.
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