Photographing People

There are several factors to consider when photographing people:

Location
The first thing to do is find your location. Choose a spot with a simple, medium-toned background. Tree foliage, grass, or the ocean work well. For darker skin, look for a similarly dark background to keep the highlight (and thus the camera's exposure) on the face.

Minimize patterns, shapes, and colors. Keep that background simple, or include a famous landmark.

Lighting
Get the sun behind you and to one side. If it's bright, put people in the shade (harsh, direct sunlight washes out the face). If it's dark in the shade, use the fill-flash feature to brighten up the face. Bring a small reflector or white card to reflect sunlight into the harsh shadow areas.

The best time is the late afternoon as it gives a nice, warm, golden glow. At other times, with an SLR camera, you can simulate this glow with an 81B or C filter.

Occasionally, having the sun shine from behind the subject (backlighting) looks good as it creates a halo through the hair, showing form and drawing the face out of the background.

If you're shooting indoors with an SLR, bounce the flash off a wall or ceiling for more natural lighting. A separate hand-held flash is best and can be positioned far enough away from the lens to avoid red-eye.

Lens

If you have an SLR, use a 135mm or similar lens for the most pleasing perspective. Use the widest aperture (lowest f-stop number) to blur the background and highlight the face for a movie-like look. If the background is important, use a small aperture (high f-number) to get everything in focus.

Positioning
Get close. Don't include their full body, but zoom straight in on the face. For close-ups, crop out the top of the head and overfill the frame. Being at eye level usually works best, so for children, kneel down.

Proportion

Generally try to keep the eyes, not necessarily the head, in the center of the frame. If the person is looking slightly to one side, add extra space to that side.
If your subject is to one side and there's a lot of contrast in the shot, you might need to control the exposure. To do this, zoom or close in on your subject (perhaps a person's face) then press the exposure lock button. Keep this button pressed down while you recompose and take your shot.
Relax Your Subject
Get your subject relaxed and happy. For friends or family, remind them of a silly event. With children, give them something to play with. For local people, ask them about the location, their job, or skill, or complement their clothes. People hate waiting while you adjust your camera so always plan the shot and adjust your camera first, before asking people to pose.

Fun Shots

To add fun and action to a shot, hold the camera at an angle°degrees with the right side up works well. It looks as though the photographer was caught off guard, emphasizing danger and action, and is great for parties! Stage a joke shot by pretending to interact with a statue. Or use a wide-angle lens to distort the face.

Action

If your subject is moving (i.e. on a cable car or bicycle), deliberately blur the background to emphasize speed, excitement, and urgency. Track the subject with your camera and, if you have an SLR, use a medium-to-slow shutter speed (1/60 sec). This will blur the background and, optionally, also your subject. Using the flash (particularly a “rear-curtain sync” feature if your camera has one) helps freeze the subject in a moving background.

Don't Forget about You!

The problem with being the photographer is that you end up not being in your own photographs. Remind the viewer what you look like and ask someone else to take a shot. You can arrange a photograph by propping the camera on a small tripod or wall (use stones, paper, or coins for adjustment) and using the self-timer.

Published: 5 Dec 2000 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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