Five Tips for Photographing People

Five Tips for Photographing People

I’ve been talking about this for a long time, so I wanted to go ahead and give you some free tips for on-the-street people photography.

From various conversations, I think that photographers are REALLY interested in taking photos of people they see on the street. We can’t help it, right? Our eyes are drawn to interesting “things” — not just landscapes. And if we see an interesting person, we really want to take their photo, yes? But then, often times, we don’t even pull the camera up to our eye because we are shy, embarrassed, or think about all the horrible things that could go wrong. So, maybe these tips will help!

Look, honestly, I don’t know if these will do you any good or not. But these are some things that I personally think about. So, insofar as some of my insights are useful to me, maybe they will be useful to you too!

Even though I’m known for “landscape photography”, I actually enjoy all kinds of photography! I take hundreds of people photos, object photos, food photos, model photos, B&W photos, etc. I assume that you take many types of photography too.

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.

Regarding that last one, seriously, folks, just be cool and confident with it. If you want to do it, and it feels right, just do it. Do not worry so much about rejection. Yes, you WILL get rejected 2-10% of the time depending upon how likable you are. Out of 500 people photos, I’ve been rejected maybe 10-13 times. It doesn’t bother me a bit. So what? People say no… big deal. The fact is that MOST people LOVE to have photos taken of them. To be interesting in a world of same-ness is a tremendous thing. Chances are that no one has ever taken a photo of them before, and they will feel special that you thought they were special.

Most of the time, after I take a photo and people look over at me, wondering, “Why did you just take a photo of me?” I usually say, “You look cool!” Or, “You look awesome!” Or, if they don’t speak English, I give them a thumbs up and a facial indication that I think they look cool. 99% of the time, they smile and carry on.

If you’re taking a photo of a kid, just get a steady nod from the parents before. Bend down to take the photo, look up at the parent, saying, “is it okay?” with your eyes. They’ll say yes or no… There is a significant number of moms out there that watch too much sensational news and assume that 50% of the population are pedophiles… but, maybe you’ll hit that other 50%! Again, we’re all just photographers, and if we see a cute or interesting kid, of course we want to take a photo! It’s what we do! There is no need to apologize for it! 🙂

Daily Photo – Salaryman in Tokyo

While I was in the middle of making a time-lapse sequence (see the video below the photo), I was using my D3S on a sling to take quick photos of interesting people. They were everywhere!

Behind me, waiting for the light to change, was this young salaryman. Salaryman is the Japanese word for “businessman”. That word salaryman always cracks me up for some reason. Anyway, he was this young kid, standing there in a most unassuming way in this nice suit. I spun around and grabbed a quick shot.

He looked a little confused at me after I took it. I gave him a nod of thanks, and he smiled in a surprised way then went merrily on his way.

HDR Photo

Videos – Life in Japan

While I am busy shooting landscapes and people in Japan, I also take time to make some videos.  Below are a few of them from recent past.  The music from both is by the great Patrick O’Hearn (buy his stuff!).  Enjoy!


Home of the Tree Samurai

Burning Man PhotoWalk

See the Facebook event here!

You are all invited to join me at the Burning Man PhotoWalk! It’s free of course… Here are the details:

  • Friday, Sept 3 at 6 PM
  • Location: Center Camp: Look for all the people with the cameras, and me, possibly in Steampunk Goggles.

What we will do:

  • Walk around together to take cool photos of Burning Man (for personal use only)
  • Find cool art installations and activities
  • Be cool (and not bother people with our cameras…)
  • Learn more about our cameras
  • Take some HDRs
  • I’ll be there to answer questions whether you are a beginner or beyond!

More Resources:

See these cards below?  I’ll be handing them out around Burning Man…  It’s sort of a “gifting” place, where money is not allowed.  Since one of my only identifiable skills is photography, I am giving people the chance to learn more about their cameras.  I think we’ll have a good time and I hope to see you there.

HDR Photo

Below is a Google Earth photo of Burning Man in a previous year… I think it’s pretty awesome.

See you soon at

I hope to meet a lot of you soon at in Dallas! In just a few days, I’m headed up to Dallas to begin the adventure by jumping out of a plane with the US Army Golden Knights. It’s gonna be a bl

Daily Photo – Home of the Tree Samurai

This was my second trip to Kyoto, and I decided to return to this amazing treetop temple. At night, the delicate lights turn on and everything comes alive. It’s really brilliant… one of those scenes that makes you think the world is really a wonderful place.

This was right in the peak of the cherry blossom season. The soft pink of the blossoms grabs and reflects the light into an unbelievable prism. It’s all like something out of a dream, and I’ve done my best to bring it back to life here on the blog.

Home of the Tree Samurai

Photo Information

  • Date Taken2017-03-29 08:32:10
  • Camera
  • Camera Make
  • Exposure Time
  • Aperturef/8
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length24mm (24mm in 35mm)
  • Flashflash did not fire
  • Exposure Programaperture priority
  • Exposure Bias

A Silent Evening in Kyoto under the Cherry Blossoms

Interview on PetaPixel

Good man Michael Zhang from PetaPixel interviewed me recently. Pop over there and check it out. Also, look around PetaPixel for a while… Michael has done an extraordinary job with that site.

We Computer Science majors need to stick together! So I’m happy to send traffic over his way!

Daily Photo – A Silent Evening in Kyoto Under the Cherry Blossoms

The beautiful white cherry blossoms were in full bloom and their gentle petals would fall down like snow, collecting on the ground.

To get here to Kyoto, I took the bus from Osaka — and this was not the most simple thing in the world. I’m used to traveling in strange places and getting around confusing transport systems, but that doesn’t mean it is always easy! The Japanese transportation system is particularly perplexing. The train system is the easiest to figure out. The bus system is second. The subway is last — dead last.

Many of these places I end up have no one that speaks English, so there’s a bit of guesswork involved. After I’m on a bus for 5-10 minutes, I start to have a sneaking suspicion that perhaps I am on the wrong one! With no one to ask or no one to call, it’s a bit more uncertain than I prefer it!

A Silent Evening in Kyoto Under the Cherry Blossoms

Photo Information

  • Date Taken2017-03-29 08:00:38
  • Camera
  • Camera Make
  • Exposure Time
  • Aperturef/5.6
  • ISO320
  • Focal Length14mm (14mm in 35mm)
  • Flashflash did not fire
  • Exposure Programaperture priority
  • Exposure Bias

Japan: Heartbeats of Time – A New Video

New eBook – First goes on sale to Newsletter Subscribers!

For the past few months, I’ve been working on a new eBook. It’s very cool — a very detailed description of a best-of-breed digital workflow. Are you starting to feel like your digital photos are a little unorganized? I’ve put together a great system for you!

The first shot at it will go to Newsletter subscribers. It’s free to sign up, so just do it below!

5 Tips for Photographing People in Public

I’m working on an upcoming post that gives some practical and easy-to-follow-through-on advice on taking photos of people in public. I get a ton of questions about it in Twitter and whatnot, so I am happy to share these tips. You’ll notice a lot of this activity in the new video below…. and I know everyone enjoys and wants to take pictures of people in public, but are sometimes unsure of how to go about it.

Digital Workflow

New Video – Japan: Heartbeats of Time

I spend a lot of time thinking about the way memory and sight work together. I don’t think we remember in “pictures” or long videos… but something in between. Perhaps we also sense, at times, more than 30 fps, and unexpected parts of the brain fire when we are presented with certain objects and forms.

If you want to know more about how I did this, visit the “Stuck In Motion” section of the website. Good news – the best bits now only require a $200 camera!

Also, you may enjoy seeing my free HDR Tutorial, which describes how I accomplish some of the other favorite photos below, which were also shot around Japan.

A Few of my Favorite Photos from Japan





The Lamps and the Sakura

Newsletter Goodies – Sign up now

These newsletters (sign up for free!) take a long time to put together! But, here are some goodies that are coming for you in the next few days… really, we have beautiful newsletters and send them out about every 4-5 weeks or so. You are missing out!

In the next one, some first looks to subscribers:

  • Two New Videos – behind the scenes on the North and South Island of New Zealand
  • Two New Unreleased photos of the Snow Monkeys…. (scroll down in case you missed the first!)
  • A 20% discount on the Textures Tutorial that will only last one week.
  • And the usual other goodies that regular subscribers are used to!

Updated Nikon D3S Review

I’ve updated the Nikon D3S Review with the new video from japan as well as the new photo below. I occasionally pop into previous reviews to update them with new information so they stay fresh. In a way, they are sort of “living documents”, especially as my experience and opinions grow and change over time.

Daily Photo – The Lamps and the Sakura

Sakura is the Japanese word for the Cherry Blossom. I don’t know if I can explain how crazy the Japanese people are about this yearly bloom! For one thing, every local newscast has a big “Cherry Blossom” report that has in-depth descriptions of exactly where the trees are blooming in the country and upcoming predictions. The wave sweeps across the island of Japan and rich graphics cover the screen like a cold front, assaulting the countryside.

I took this photo with the Nikon D3S. I’ve recently taken to carrying two cameras with me. I take the Nikon D3X with me, and it’s usually attached to the tripod. This is the one that I use for 90% of my landscapes. While I carry that, slung around my neck and shoulder, Chewbacca-style, is the Nikon D3S, which I use for people shots, DOF shots, and videos.

This was taken at F/1.4 with a 50mm prime lens. The shutter was 1/8000 and the ISO 200. As always, this “EXIF” information is available on the SmugMug site if you click through and do a tiny bit of investigative clicking!

The Lamps and the Sakura

Photo Information

  • Date Taken2017-03-29 09:41:02
  • Camera
  • Camera Make
  • Exposure Time
  • Aperturef/1.4
  • ISO200
  • Focal Length50mm (50mm in 35mm)
  • Flashflash did not fire
  • Exposure Programaperture priority
  • Exposure Bias

The Endless Tunnel

Working on New Videos

I captured a lot of video while in Japan. And I mean a lot! I’m really looking forward to editing together some beautiful things for everyone. There is footage of the snow monkeys, Nikko, Tokyo, Kyoto, and more! In fact, I have so much stuff, I’ll probably release several videos.

You can see existing ones here in the Videos section.

Daily Photo – The Endless Tunnel

There is a long walk in Kyoto called “The Philosophers’ Path”. I’ve now walked on it five times. It’s incredibly peaceful and there are countless opportunities for photography. The path has everything from gentle streams to temples to cherry blossoms to interesting architecture. Near one of the temples, I found this series of arches, which seemed to be all lined up for something just like this!

Under the Cherry Blossoms

iPad Wallpapers on MacBreak Weekly

I heard via email and some tweets that Leo Laporte mentioned that my iPad Wallpapers on his show – that is cool! Thanks Leo! The only problem is that every time he does that, my servers crash for a little bit… We are working on a new server setup solution around here that should be a lot reliable (and help the page load faster!).

Daily Photo – Under the Cherry Blossoms

I spent a while one evening in the older Gion district of Kyoto. Everything was in full bloom and there were all kinds of interesting people and things to see. It was a bit like a perfect little Japanese fairy-land. When the breeze came along, the blossoms would fall loose and flutter down like pink soft snow. I saw this couple sitting on a small stone wall beside a little stream under some cherry trees…

I did my best to blend into the background as I slyly slid inwards with my D3S. This was shot at ISO 3200, and you can see how little noise/grain there is in the exposure.

The Kyoto Cherry Blossom Bloom

The Nikon D3S Review

The last time I made a short video like this, I put it on the Nikon D3S Review page.  I’ll be sure to put this one on too.  It’s a pretty good indication of how cool this camera is… and the sorts of things you can do with it.

I must say, it’s quite nice to be able to grab little moments here and there between photos.  There is something that is very nice about video where you can get a few things you just can’t with a photo.  It’s not better or worse… just different.  It has taken me a little while to get used to — the idea that I can just take video any time without having to carry around another video camera.

Of course, you don’t need a D3S to do this… you can do it with a Nikon D90 and a lot of other new mid-range cameras nowadays.

Daily Surprise – The Kyoto Cherry Blossom Bloom

I’ve always wanted to come to Kyoto when the cherry blossoms are blooming, so this is really exciting.  Everything is even more beautiful than I imagined… there are thousands and thousands of these trees here that have a soft pink that is impossible to describe.  I’m not sure the video below can do it justice… we’ll have to wait until I have time to process some of the photos to see if I can make it as real as it is when I am here.

I flew into Osaka, found the bus to Kyoto, arrived, checked in, dumped my stuff in my room, then blew out into the streets with all my gear.   It was dusk when I left, so I decided to record 24 hours worth of video from one dusk until the next, grabbing little moments here and there.  All of it was shot with my D3S, which I now carry around with my D3X — I have my little system fully described (and on video) on the Photo Bag page.

A Parting Shot of the Temple

Links in Comments

I know a lot of y’all post links to your own work, your websites, articles of note, and the like.  I encourage it!  Don’t be shy about doing that.  Watch out — however if you put more than 3 links into a comment – the filter will think that it is spam and it will get held up for moderation.

New Newsletter went out!

If you are on the free newsletter list,  you recently received it!  You can sign up now on the Newsletter page, and you’ll be good-to-go!  There is some fun stuff in this latest edition!

Daily Photo – A Parting Shot of the Temple

Sometimes while on a little afternoon / evening / night photo adventure, I literally run out of energy at the end.  This is bad news!  I put so much effort into running around, getting all the shots, carrying around all my equipment, fully concentrating, and the like…  at the end, it’s all I can do to get back to home base.  However, this night, as I was leaving this beautiful complex of temples in Kyoto, I stopped to take one look behind me.

I had first passed this place in the afternoon when there was no rain.  During my shoot, rain fell and changed everything.  Of course, the lights were totally different, so I just had to muster up a little more energy for a final shot.  For these sorts, I usually put my tripod on its lowest-leg setting and fire away for maximum reflectivity.

The Harmony Garden

Thanks again Kiwis!

I had a great time on our photowalk down here and met some very nice people. I think my kids were a little drained! At the end, during the talk, both of them fell asleep in a back room… We hoisted them into the campervan after that, drove to the beach, and then they were surprised to find where they woke up! Fell asleep during dad’s boring talk — wake up at the beach! Woo!

It was great to meet so many nice people from all over Auckland. There were even a few Aussies at the event! I haven’t had time to process any photos yet, but I will soon.

Daily Photo – The Harmony Garden

Kyoto was filled with thousands of these tiny gardens with ponds and little rivers. Which one to take photos of first?!?

None of them seemed to have artificial pumps that moved the water around. I always think of that whenever I see little gardens with water features in the states, or like they sell at Sam’s. Somehow, it seems, Japanese garden-masters are able to constantly refill their ponds by keeping the appropriate amount of dew forming on surrounding leaves, which then drips into the pond, which then goes down a perfect little waterfall, and ends up at another perfect pond about 50 paces away.

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