5 More Tips for Photographing People

Always Refining

I went back and read my previous Top 5 Tips here, and I realized a few of them could be improved… and I also rewrote everything… This is one of the good things about having a blog — I can always change my mind like a woman. (I see the benefits, now).

5 More Tips for Photographing People

I hope they help!

1) If you prefer to take photos of people as they are acting naturally, go ahead and take the photo before they notice you. You are a photographer, and this is you. You capture life… if you see something interesting whether it is a landscape, a pile of peaches, or a person that strikes your fancy, go ahead and do it. If you like and it is convenient, you can always go show them the photo after you are done. I do this whenever it makes sense, and I have a nice little interchange with the person.

2) Keep an extra camera ready for people shots. When walking the streets, I normally have my “big” camera ready to go for city landscape shots. My tripod is on. My wide-angle is on. It’s in that “mode.” If I am going to have to switch lenses, it will take forever, and the moment will be lost. So, I carry a second camera on a sling around my shoulder for people shots. On that camera, I have an 85mm or 50mm prime lens. Now, you don’t have to have this exact setup by any means, but having ANY kind of second camera for people shots is recommended.

2b) I find that the 85mm prime keeps me outside something I call the radius of intimacy. That is, when you use a 50mm, you are so close that people often stop acting naturally, unless they are a professional model or a natural thespian.

3) If they ARE likely to notice you, be confident and deliberate, softly asking permission with your eyes. This is a very subtle and hard thing to explain. I usually raise my eyebrows while I raise my camera, clearly indicating, “I’m about to take a photo. Everything is okay.” If they don’t want you to, they will make it clear. Usually, they say it’s just fine. People like to be thought of as interesting.

4) If they are very close, I ask permission out loud. Often times, I don’t want them to pose… so I say something (smiling!) like, “You look very interesting — can I take a photo?” Once they say yes (98% of the time they do), I usually ask them not to pose and carry on about their business. Then I start taking a bunch of photos and enjoy the pressure of capturing the moment.

5) Don’t be shy! If you feel overly shy, it may be a larger indication that you are letting fear motivate you rather than the opportunities that life provides. So, if you feel doubt or fear, just try to channel me and be brave and forthright.

Daily Photo – Old Woman in Beijing

I spotted this old woman walking along the outside of the Forbidden City. Just like above, I took photos without any hesitation before she noticed what was going on. I shared the photo with her after, and we had a nice little moment.

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  • Susan

    Wonderful face she has – would love to hear all her ‘stories’ too!

  • This i give a WOW, this is such a nice shot .I see another 2 shots,just head and shoulders and the hand on the walking stick.I love people pictures these always tell stories in ones imagination .Ten out of ten for this as that expression is not repeated so easily.

  • michel latendresse

    The first and last time I went to China in 1989, i noticed how easy it was to take photos of people. In most situation when you shoot a candid portrait and the person notices you he/she will have an instantaneous reaction either posing, hiding their face, or smiling. I found that this was not the case in China, people had what i called a “10 seconds reaction lag” from the time I pointed my camera at them to the time they realized I was taking a photo of them. Of course 10 seconds is an eternity in shutter speed time, and i generally had time to shoot 4 or 5 frames (this was before the DSLR and motor drives when we had to “crank” each frame one by one…). I remember another situation, i was walking the streets of Chengdu, when I took a photo of a woman through the window of her store from across the street, while the lady didn’t notice me some of her friends or customers did, and they ran inside to tell her i had taken a picture of her. She ran out in front of her store and smiled at me gesturing with her hands to take another one. Which of course I did. I kept that photo on my wall for many years. Nice memories. Cheers

  • Patrick Ahles

    Wonderful portrait. I’m not a people shooter, I simply don’t have the nerve to ask, and am to shy to be noted!

  • I wonder if anyone will take offense to the ‘change my mind like a woman’ comment. I hope they don’t… after all, changing your mind just means you’re open to improvements and are willing to abandon bad decisions, as opposed to sinking with ships so-to-speak.

    I change my mind all the time. 50mm/f1.4 first or 28-300mm/f3.5-5.6 VR? Come on, these are tough questions.

  • Actually, two additional thoughts:

    50mm for crop-sensor cameras puts people at an approximate 75mm if shooting Nikon (DX), or 80mm if shooting Canon crop-sensor (APS-C). For a lot of crop-sensor users, 50mm as a walkabout people lens can produce the reach that keeps them just outside of that radius of intimacy mentioned. He’s not kidding about that radius, either – if you don’t know them, the space helps the picture. For DX, 85mm translates to 127.5mm, and for APS-C, 136mm. I don’t have experience with 85mm on crop, so I don’t know if that range ends up being too much.

    As for: 5) Don’t be shy! – man, this is a tough one for me. I’ve let too many shots pass me by because of this one. I’m gonna have to just get over it.

  • Great tips Trey! I am primarily a Landscape/Cityscape photog, but really need to get in to shooting more people. I will try and focus on this for my next trip!

  • anonymous

    Great tips. An upcoming trip should give me the opportunity to take a lot of people shots (not something I’m comfortable with or good at). Lots to keep in mind. Will definitly have to get out of my comfort zone.

    Also, liked Louis’ comments in terms of seeing the possibilities in this scene. Would not have thought about shooting just the hand holding the cane (like I said, people shots are not my thing), or just the head shot.

  • Bart

    Very nice photo; I can’t stop looking at it! Trey, have you ever used a right angle lens adapter to take candid, natural photos. There’s something about the act of observing that changes that which is being observed. I have a hard time doing this when I point directly at the subject as it takes me a while to compose and focus.

  • Andy Bird

    I’m a bit sneaky when It comes to my people shots – I think if you ask someone, their behaviour changes and the shot becomes less organic. I tend to hang off with a longer lens and shoot the action. If I am closer up I just stick on cntinuous shooting, snap off a few shots and see what I get – it’s worked so far.

    Another tip that I think might be useful for the photographers who don’t have extra cameras/lenses is to use a lens such as an 18-55mm that you can use for multiple situations – these lenses come with most starter camera kits so the chances are most guys will have one kicking around. They may not be as specialist as prime lenses but they still do a grand job for both landscape and portrait without the hassle of extra cameras/lens swapping…..

    I have been lucky enough to get some great people shots lately so here’s the links to them, enjoy :-

    (My favourite) http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrandybird/6005652757

    (From Disney Hollywood Studios) http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrandybird/6211661586

  • Andy Bird

    One person photo more from Disney Magic Kingdom :-


  • hehe thanks all 🙂

  • I’m slowly overcoming my fear of shooting in public let alone actually shooting a person! Lol. I’m more of the hike for miles into the forest to grab an interesting landscape few people have seen kind of photographer, but I’m hoping to overcome my limitations and find a way to photograph people acting naturally – I’m sure it comes down to experience.

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  • Hey Trey, I love your HDR tutorial (that I actually bought). I was able to download it with no problems following your very clear instructions. Thank you for making what took you several years of trial, error and experience accessible to so many of us.

    On another note, what sling do you use for your people camera?

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  • I always say good job to you!
    Check my blog about adobe photoshop newest

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