Photographing People

Photographing people well can be particularly challenging. It is hard to capture people in a picture that truly represents them because we are always concerned only with getting the person. Here are some different techniques to consider when photographing people.

Talk To Your Subjects

The most common problem that new photographers have while photographing people is talking to them. Most new photographers don’t want to disrupt people who are in conversation or busy doing something. You will have to get over this fear in a hurry. As a photographer, it is your job to get the photo. Nobody is going to run up to you and beg to have their photo taken.

You will find the 90% of people will be willing participants for your photos if you ask permission and explain where the picture will be used.

Start with asking: “Excuse me can I take your photo?”

Try adding: “It’s for the yearbook” or “It’s for my photography class assignment.”

If someone refuses, don’t fight with them, simply say “Thanks anyway!” and move on to another subject.

Directing and Arranging People for Photos

The second most common problem for new photographers is arranging people for a photo. Once you’ve gotten permission to take a photo, don’t simply point and shoot. Tell your subjects what you want. You can ask your subjects to do many things to make the photo better or more interesting.

Consider how your picture would change if you said the following things:

  • Let’s try one with nice smiles and then one with silly faces.
  • Stand back to back and cross your arms, then look at the camera.
  • Put your arm around him.
  • Try to look like you’re suprised… annoyed… happy… sad… scared… sleepy

Or there’s always the standard direction you have to give when taking large group photos.

  • Let’s get two rows, tall people in the back, shorter people in the front down on one knee…
  • You turn slightly to the middle, move in on the ends…

Remember… it’s your photo and they’ve agreed to be part of it, you should be telling them what to do!


Natural Life – (Candid Shots)

This type of photography seeks to capture from the viewpoint of the observer. In other words, you are not creating the circumstances in which the photo has been taken. This is one of the most difficult types of photographs to get because it requires you to not behave like a photographer, but it tends to be the most rewarding and interesting. You must try to blend in and capture subjects without intruding or affecting their behaviour.

This does not mean being hidden like paparazzi in a celebrity’s dumpster, but rather taking steps to ensure that you are not readily detected before you have captured your shot. To do this, consider the following tips:

  • Be quiet and not intrusive. Digital cameras are usually best for this as you can turn off shutter sounds. Don’t forget to do that!
  • Do not hover with your camera up. This is noticeable and causes people to become self-conscious. Instead, have your camera on and set to the correct camera setting ahead of time. When the moment arises to take your photo, do not hesitate even for a second.
  • If all else fails, ask! If you see the opportunity for a great photo, and you have tried to capture it repeatedly, but have failed, you can always stage the photo. Ask the people if you can direct them to get your shot.


At Work

Work is considered to be a fairly open activity, but you should seek permission before you sit and watch. People are usually much more likely to allow you to take pictures of them while they work because the topic of the photograph is not them, but rather what they are doing. If you wanted to photograph them walking down the street, they may feel uncomfortable because they are now the focus of the photograph. To take good pictures of people at work consider the following tips:

  • The best forms of work to photograph are ones in which people take pride, and work that may be unusual.
  • Sit and Observe. Before you can get an idea of what you want to capture about the person, you need to spend some time watching them work. A person’s job usually involves much more than one task. Watch them and try to find the essence of what it is that they are doing.
  • When you take pictures, make sure that the person at work is not looking at the camera. You want the picture to appear candid. In other words, the person looking at the photo should feel like they are experiencing the moment.
  • Physical work is easier to photograph than office work. With physical work we should see what the person is doing, this means that objects, and hands are in full view, the “doing” is the focus. In office work, try to liven the picture up by using unique angles and positioning. Hand gestures and facial expressions are also important to consider in this type of picture.


Casual & Planned Portraits

With portraits, you have the cooperation of your subjects. They know they are being photographed, and they know that they are the focus of the photo. The difference between a casual and planned portrait is:

sdfCasual Portraits do not make use of a studio and there is very little planned in advance. They are often spur of the moment events where you see something interesting and ask someone if you can photograph them in their natural environment.

Again, this is not something you’ve planned ahead of time. You see an opportunity for a great photo, you direct your subject and you capture the portrait.



Planned Portraits involve a great deal of planning. They can be done in a studio with proper locations and lighting equipment or out on location. What makes them different from casual portraits is the planning involved. Costuming (how someone is dressed), props and set (or scene for outdoors) are all planned ahead of time. 

This means you have picked the location because it suits the subject of your picture and the person being photographed. You have scouted out the location and chosen a good angle and position for the photo. A good way of doing this is going to the location and practice shooting the exact shot you want without the person in it.

You should also consider the planned time for the photo. It should not only be convenient for both of you but also to ensure that there is proper sunlight (outdoor shots) and to control the number of people around.

For either type of portrait, you should consider the following things:

  • Make sure that the area in which you are photographing is well lit. You should use a flash or extra lighting if you are indoors.
  • Most people will stiffen up as time goes on. You are more likely to get a true likeness of them if you are quick to take the shot.
  • Facial expression and gestures are important to enhance the photograph. They help us to understand personality and character of the subject.
  • Consider what will be in the background before you ask someone for a picture. If you have to ask them to move or position themselves in a certain way, don’t be afraid to ask. It will make for a better picture.
  • If you see someone posing or doing something unique, fun, or interesting, and you have missed it, don’t be afraid to ask them to do it again and hold the pose. Usually, people are more than happy to comply.
  • Decide ahead of time what you want to focus on. Will your shot focus on:
    • close in on someone’s face?
    • head and shoulders?
    • Three-quarter shot ( head, shoulders, torso)?
    • full figure?


Your assignment is to experiment with photographing people. You must include:

An arranged group photo (3 people or more)
A natural life photograph
A photograph of someone at work
A casual portrait

DO NOT UPLOAD TO FLICKR! These should be put into a folder called “PhotographingPeople”, which should be added to your shared OneDrive folder. It should be obvious which photos are which, but label them, making sure that the file name reflects the type of photo you are submitting (e.g. work.jpg, casual.jpg, natural.jpg, etc.)

Tell Mr. Robson what's on your mind!