Photographing People Requires a Certain Skill, One of Which is Confidence
People Photography – This is a tricky subject for many people starting out in photography (including myself) as it can be quite daunting. You almost feel as though you are imposing on people’s privacy when photographing them but it is one area that you will inevitably come across the more you move forward.
Photography is such a great hobby or profession for the more introverted among us. It gives you the chance to aimlessly roam about in places that you wouldn’t normally go alone, and you have an excuse!
Photography can be as social or as solitary as you like. If you take people out of the equation you are free to let yourself and your mind wander without a care in the world. It is a great way to take in the countryside or cities and towns with no-one to please but yourself.
When I was in my early teens I was fairly shy and photography gave me a creative outlet that didn’t involve too much contact with other people. As I got older and enjoyed photography more and more, I slowly brought people “into the frame” and found a whole new world of creativity, if anything it made me more confident.
Nowadays, by shooting many families, kids and weddings, the people are the most important aspect of my work. I still find peace and solitude in my stock photography as it enables me to get some quality time alone and far from the madding crowd.
So what is the best way to approach people in order to capture the real them?
First of all you need confidence in yourself and your abilities. If you come across as anything else, the people you are photographing will sense this and the shoot could be a disaster.
People Photography – Smile!
When you first meet your subjects, greet them with a hearty smile and/or firm handshake. A smile does wonders as an ice-breaker and is normally reciprocated with the same.
Spend time getting to know the people, genuinely ask them about themselves. What do they do? What do they like? Are they married? Do they have children? I usually make a point of meeting up a week or so before the shoot so that there is no ice to break on the day.
Once you find some common ground and people relax a bit, the photography is so much easier and the result is more natural looking portraits. This is especially important at weddings.
People Photography – Take Control
Always try to have an idea of what style of portraits or photography you will be doing. If you have a pre-arranged set of shots, locations and ideas, (either your own or the couple’s/family’s), it shows professionalism and you can work efficiently and with confidence. Have a plan and try to stick to it.
People Photography – Don’t be shy
Don’t be afraid to get in close for some shots and remember to compliment your subject (as long as it is genuine and not an obvious lie). As the shoot goes on and on it gets easier and you notice them relaxing more, try some different or unique ideas.
“Can you make me look thinner” or “Can you make me beautiful”?
I get asked this at practically every wedding meeting or portrait shoot that I have, sometimes by the men! It is normally a way of the client breaking the ice but is also a question they actually want answering. My immediate reply is one that normally breaks the ice straight away
“Someone has beaten me to it”! (Yes, corny I know, but it works)!
If the question does come up and you get talking, they may ask you to make some simple adjustments during post-processing such as removing spots or wrinkles.
It is up to you how far you go but I normally wait until they see the finished image before making any drastic alterations, it is easy to offend if you get it wrong.
People Photography – Flatter them
People normally tell you when they think they have a “good side”, listen and remember which side it is. Concentrate your efforts on making them look the best you can in their eyes.
Set up your lighting, if you are using it, to be soft, diffused and evenly spread. On most occasions with just 1-4 people, I either use;
You can’t beat natural light as long as it isn’t direct sunlight, but the next best thing for me is a good softbox. You tend to find that the light is so well spread that any lines and wrinkles fade anyway.
Also, try to shoot slightly higher than your subject to reduce the chance of double chins but don’t go too high otherwise you end up with wrinkled foreheads as they look up.
People Photography – Look away
It isn’t a hard and fast rule that people should always look directly into the camera, on the contrary, most good portraits have an “unaware of the camera” or “lost in thought” look to them. It is quite a trend now for portraits to be done at a favourite location, such as a beach, with the family just going about and doing their own thing.
People Photography – You can have the model looking at the camera for a more personal look to the portrait or looking to one side to give the effect of a “third party” being present. It is up to you and the subject as to which you choose but it doesn’t hurt to try both.
Long gone are the days of the blue “cloud-like” backdrops with hands placed nicely on the knee and a nonchalant smile directly at the camera natural is the way to go.