Of the many subjects you pick to photograph, people reliably make the
best photographs. Nothing is more fascinating to us than other people. A
good 'people' photograph shows character, emotion and a connection for
the viewer. Here are some tips to help you take great shots of the
people in your life.
The biggest mistake many photographers make is to try to shoot a
person's whole body, head to toe. Don't attempt this, unless clothes are
important, such as a uniform or fashion pictures.
Instead, focus on the face. The eyes and mouth are the most important
features, so start there and 'zoom-out' until you have just enough to
represent the individual. Crop tightly, and don't be afraid to overflow
the frame with the person's face.
A standard lighting technique is to position yourself so the sun/photo
lamp is behind you and to one side. This arrangement will shine light on
the subject's face, while the slight angle will produce shadows to
illuminate facial form. A better approach is to put your subject in a
shady area with a shadowed background. Unlike the human eye,
photographic film/digital sensor can't easily handle bright areas and
dark shadows, as in direct sunlight, so use the shade for a narrow tonal
range. Overcast days are usually best for portraits. Experiment with a
simple reflector sheet/board made of white or shiny surface to reflect
angled light onto your subject.
Use ('fill-in-flash' or 'daylight flash') to add light to the face to
fill in shadow areas. If your flash gun has a 'Bounce flash facility',
bounce the flash light off an adjacent wall or ceiling. However, make
sure that the wall/ceiling is of a neutral colour otherwise you may
introduce a colour cast onto the subjects face.
Use a long lens such as an 80mm or 135mm - I call this the 'people'
lens. A wide-angle distorts the face, although it can be used
effectively for groups and sometimes press photography. Find a simple,
mid-toned background and use a wide aperture to throw it out of focus. I
like to use an uncluttered natural background such as a wall and an 80mm
lens set to it's widest aperture i.e. f2.8. Centre the eyes in the
camera frame, not necessarily the head, to provide balance in the final
picture. When photographing children crouch down so that you're shooting
at their eye-level, this will prevent vertical distortion.
Try to set-up your camera ahead of time rather than making people wait
around. Help relax your subjects by engaging them in light conversation.
Get them to laugh or smile as naturally as possible. Some people will
not be able to do this naturally, so don't force them to do so as this
will make them more conscious. Leave them to do their natural pose, even
if this is 'serious looking' as this will provide a better photograph in
the long run.
Finally you may wish to put yourself in the shot, that's
where your tripod, remote-fob or self-timer comes in...
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