Monday, December 13, 2010

Shooting Better People Pictures

A week-long photography series designed to help you tell better stories through your photography.
by Trish Hummer of Everyday Images by Trish
Part 1:  Digital photography basics and great full-body shots
Part 2:  Focus on faces and shoot when they're not looking
Part 3:  Being silly and letting kids be kids
Part 4:  Capturing relationships and shooting groups
Part 5:  Doing what they love and going faceless
Part 6: Shoot multiples of expressions
Part: 7: Great lighting, the unexpected, and indoor sports

Welcome to Part 1
Marie Young of Creative Sprinkle invited me to write a guest blog about taking pictures of people because it's what I love to do best. With the holidays upon us, I thought it might be the right time to offer some pointers for those hoping to capture some memories in the coming weeks.

Let me preface this by stating that I am not a professional photographer. If I were an athlete, I am what you would consider a minor-league player. I sometimes get paid to play and I dream of playing in the bigs but, for now, I'm in it for the love of the game. So the advice below is not about ISO, F-stops or aperture. It's about people.

Also, remember THERE ARE NO RULES. These are just some tips to get you started. Once you get a better sense of what you like, you will develop your own style.

Some general comments about digital photography :

It's not all about the camera. I am fortunate to be able to shoot with a really nice camera with some awesome lenses. That definitely gives me an advantage. But some of my favorite pictures have been taken with a little point-and-shoot or the camera on my cell phone. This is about doing the best with what you've got.

Shoot WAY more photos than you think you need. In this digital age, there is no reason not to. The only thing it will cost you is time in editing, but editing time is also learning time. The more you shoot, the quicker you will learn what works for you and what doesn't.

Download and review your images within 48 hours of shooting. I almost always edit the same day because I'm excited to see my results. This also helps me avoid a backlog which can become daunting if you shoot as much as I do.

Learn how to edit your photos. I cannot emphasize this enough. I took a class once in which the instructor pointed out that, with digital photography, what you shoot accounts for only part of the result; the other important part is what you do with an image once you get it out of your camera and into your computer. There are tons of software programs out there. Some are very sophisticated and work best for hardcore professionals. But learning just a few editing basics (cropping, straightening, red-eye reduction, and exposure compensation) in programs like iPhoto or Photoshop Elements can help you turn a mediocre photo into a really nice photo. Once you get the hang of it, you can edit hundreds of images in less time than you would expect.

Share your images. People love to look at pictures and with sharing sites like Shutterfly, Snapfish, and Flickr, you no longer have to order lots of expensive prints to share your photos with friends and family anywhere in the world. You will also find that you'll take lots of images that you might not consider "print worthy" but that are still fun to share. When sharing electronically, though, be courteous to your audience and weed out the truly bad photos and make sure you rotate any photos that need it in order to be right side up when viewed.

Now for the people part.

First of all, I believe you have to like people to get good pictures of them.  And you need them to stop thinking about the camera you're pointing at them.  Best way to do that is to engage them.  Talk to them.  Get them laughing.  With little ones, take their picture and then show them the result.  And don't be annoyed when they ask to see them over and over again.  Isn't that why we take them?  It will also help them see how to be a better subject.

Generally, this biggest piece of advice I give to friends who ask how to take better pictures of people is to tell them the get closer to their subjects.  Closer than may seem comfortable.  I'm not suggesting you get into the face of your intended target, but definitely get cozy with the zoom feature on your camera.  You can also get "closer" by cropping the images once you get them into your computer.

Tip 1: If it's head-to-toe, make it count.
I seldom take people pictures that show people from head-to-toe.  When I do, there better be something interesting going on from top to bottom. It's also more important in these images to pay a little closer attention to what's going on in the background.  Sometimes a simple change of angle will improve things greatly.


  1. Fabulous post! Thank you for sharing your tips! My dad bought me a Nikon P90 about a year ago and I'm struggling with it. It seems to take great pictures outside, most of the time, but taking photos inside is a totally different story. I generally shoot in the auto mode because I just don't know what I'm doing. It should be a decent camera for a beginner, right? What is my problem? Anyway, thanks again for sharing and I'll make sure I stop by this week for more!

  2. Fabulous post! I'm sharing these tips with my daughter who is seriously into photography.
    She's getting a new camera any day now.

  3. Hockey Wife, I've not shot with a P90 before, but I just took a look at some reviews and they were generally positive. One common problem for people shooting digitally indoors is to assume you always need flash. So you might play around with that. Also, it's okay to rely on the Auto settings when you just want to pick up your camera and shoot something that's going on. But take some time to practice shooting with other settings like the aperture or Shutter priority modes. According to one review, these can "assist with evenly regulating exposure making it easy to use for 1st timers." Take several shots of the same thing using the different settings. Play with the ISO, too, to see what that will impact.

    One other comment. Your camera has an awesome 3" LCD screen. The ONLY time I would recommend using that while shooting is when you need to hold the camera at an angle where you can't look through the viewfinder (for example, if you are holding the camera above your head to shoot and need to see if you have your subject in frame.) Here's why. One of the biggest problems for novice photographers is steadying the camera. The mere act of depressing the shutter can move the camera at the instant you take the photo. When you hold the camera against your face to look through the viewfinder, that helps steady the camera. When you hold the camera out in front of you, you may not notice it, but you are probably moving the camera around a bit. If you must shoot with the camera out in front (or for those without a viewfinder), try tucking your elbows into your sides for stability or steady your hands against something firm like a door frame, a railing, or a piece of furniture.

    Good luck!

  4. Debra, Ooooh. What's she getting? I'll always remember that my first Nikon was a gift from my mother when I graduated from Penn State. I've been shooting ever since. Thanks for the comment.

  5. I've navigated my way through a few websites that discuss the Nikon P90 and I read about aperture and ISO but I have had a hard time figuring out what they are, exactly, and how to change the settings. I've even consulted my manual but I just get overwhelmed! I've played with the different settings a few times; sometimes I'm successful, sometimes I'm not. The problem is that I need to know WHAT about that particular setting, at that particular time, made it a success! I'll keep trying! Thank you so much for the helpful tips!

  6. Nice series, Trish! I've gotten fairly competent at taking photos of food (a.k.a. still life subjects that I can style), but people are another challenge entirely. Thanks for the tips!

  7. Trish, you are so dang talented!!!!!! Gorgeous stuff!!!!

  8. I'm late to the game but enjoying the series very much. Thanks for sharing, both of you.


Ooh,a comment! How delightful.


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