Struggling to capture high quality photos of people? You’re not alone.
People photography can be hard. Posing, keeping the subject relaxed, choosing the right settings – that’s enough to make anyone’s brain ache! Luckily, I’m a seasoned portrait shooter, and in this article, I share my absolute best tips for photographing people like a pro.
Below you will find:
Ready to improve your people photography skills? So let’s do that!
1. Be realistic
If you’re just starting out photographing people, don’t expect too much of yourself or promise your abilities too much.
As long as you’re familiar with camera settings, lighting, composition/posing, and editing, you’ll get good images and your clients will likely be happy. But don’t pretend you’ll be able to produce dozens of high-quality shots; if you do, you’re more likely to frustrate your customers.
And if you have absolutely no practice photographing in a certain situation, tell your client. If you’ve been asked to photograph a wedding, for example, explain your lack of experience – just in case things go wrong. If you are doing a family session but have never worked with young children, be honest.
If your client is a good candidate, he will understand and forgive any incident during the session. (On the other hand, if your client is not happy, maybe they would be better off with someone more experienced!)
2. Simplify everything
When you’re new to people photography, you might be tempted to use fancy poses, add lots of props, go crazy with lighting patterns, and more. That’s what the pros do, right?
But here’s the truth:
You can produce great photos of people without make things too complex. And if you add too much complexity, you risk losing control of the session, which is never a good thing.
So do yourself a favor and keep it simple. Look for flat, monochrome backgrounds that will make your subject stand out. Memorize a handful of basic poses (and take photos for reference on your phone as a backup). Shoot with natural light during the golden hours. And test a handful of settings beforehand to find out exactly what to do in the heat of the moment. (For specific settings recommendations, see my next tip!)
Also be sure to position your subjects in front of simple scenes. Avoid horizon lines that cross your subjects’ heads, avoid street signs that stick out of bodies, and avoid eye-catching splashes of color that will only serve to distract the viewer.
3. Use the right people photography settings
If you want to capture detailed, well-exposed images of people, you need to get your settings right. Unfortunately, there is no table of better settings you can use for consistent results – the perfect settings always depend on the situation – but I have a few recommendations:
- Work in aperture priority mode, which will allow you to dial in the aperture and ISO you want while your camera chooses the perfect shutter speed (for good exposure). This is the camera mode that many portrait photographers use, and it will offer control over key settings while too automate the exposure process.
- If you’re shooting one or two people, a wide aperture is a good call – at f/2.2, for example, you can keep your eyes and face sharp while creating a beautifully blurred background. If you’re shooting groups of three or more people, I recommend turning the aperture down to at least f/2.8 (and you may need to turn the aperture down further depending on the situation).
- If you’re using natural light, choose the lowest ISO you can afford. If you’re working in bright light, ISO 100 is a good starting point; if you’re working in the shade or late at night, ISO 400 is an option; and if you’re shooting indoors, you may need to increase your ISO to 800 and beyond.
- If you’re using strong artificial light (such as flashes or studio strobes), set your ISO to 100 and forget about it.
- Shoot in RAW; this will give you extra leeway when editing (although RAW photos take up more space, so be sure to bring plenty of memory cards!).
- Let your camera choose the shutter speed (using aperture priority), but be careful of its value. If the shutter speed drops below about 1/200s, consider increasing the ISO or widening the aperture to force the shutter speed up and improve sharpness.
If you’re used to working in automatic mode, spend some time practicing with these settings before the big day. You don’t want to miss a shot because you’re busy fiddling with your camera, do you?
4. Take photos at or above your subject’s eye level
If you photograph people from below, the results will be very unflattering and your subjects will not be satisfied.
Instead, for the best and most flattering setup, shoot from or above your subject’s eye level. An eye-level angle will prevent perspective distortion and create an intimate connection between subject and viewer.
And if you’re shooting from above, you can subtly sharpen the subject while highlighting their eyes and face. I’m a top angle fan, so I often have people kneel down and stare at me while I’m standing.
I also encourage you to shoot to one side, not straight. Upright images look static and boring while angled images are much more interesting. You can also have your subject twist their waist, shoulders, or neck to add some extra dynamism.
5. Help the subject relax
The best photos of people Natural. Of course, they can be posed, but the subject’s expression and demeanor should appear casual and relaxed.
But how do you make sure your subject feels relaxed?
It starts with conversation. Every time you start a new session or tackle a new topic, you shouldn’t just dive in with your camera. First, spend time talking about non-photographic things: the weather, the weekend, interests, etc.
And once you start filming, don’t work in silence. Continue the conversation! This way your subject stays relaxed and you get lots of natural looking photos.
Be sure to project confidence, regardless of your actual comfort level. If you appear confident, your subject will be confident.
And if your subject is watching very stiff, give them something to do or an accessory to hold. This will make them forget about your camera (and your photos will get better).
6. Do some post-processing (but not too much!)
Editing programs like Lightroom and Photoshop are very powerful. And if you’re shooting RAW, they should become an essential part of your workflow.
Once you’ve completed a session or event, import all of your files into your favorite post-processing software. Then browse and choose the best images for editing.
Next, make some basic adjustments. Correct the white balance, fix the exposure, and consider adding some contrast and saturation for more pop. If the composition doesn’t work for you, don’t be afraid to crop (but don’t crop too strongly – otherwise you will lose pixels and the image quality will suffer).
Finally, if your subject has imperfections, you can try to remove them. This is a personal decision, however, and will depend on both you and your subject.
A warning : Don’t overdo it with your editing. If you’re just starting out, the idea of messing with the editing tools might sound fun, but it’s very easy to ruin images by making them too sharp, adding too much saturation, swapping colors, etc.
I encourage great restraint when editing photos of people. If you are unsure if you took an image too far, check the Before and After view and exercise caution. I understood?
7. Don’t try to turn a photoshoot into something it’s not
If you’re a fan of photography that involves elaborate setups, expensive cabinets, dramatic lighting, and professional models, you might be tempted to capture images that look like they belong in fashion magazines – even if you’re doing a simple event or family portrait session.
It is a mistake. It is important to always adapt your photos to the needs and interests of the client. Make sure the photos match the lens!
If you’re doing a family shoot, keep the wardrobe, lighting, and poses simple, regardless of your skill level. And if you are photographing an event, seek to capture candid moments; don’t pose your subjects ad infinitum.
Of course, if you’re hired to capture models or are planning a fashion shoot in your spare time, then go wild! Do a lot of styling, spend some time on the wardrobe, and include some fancy poses. Just make sure you and your client/model are on the same page!
How to Photograph People: Final Words
Well, now you have it:
Simple tips for capturing great images of people, no matter your skill level.
Hopefully the next time you pick up your camera, you’ll feel a lot more confident!
Which of these tips do you plan to use first? What kind of people photography do you plan to do? Share your opinion in the comments below!