As photographers and members of the human race we seem to have a natural inclination to look at our fellow members with a degree of interest and even curiosity. The range of subject material is almost limitless and at the same time presents us with constant challenges.
Lets take a closer look at this wide spectrum.
We can initially divide people into 2 groups:
Individuals and Groups with a further division of individuals into portraits (head and shoulders) and activities. Groups can include adults, children, families, senior citizens and also activities.
Each and everyone of the above requires a different approach although there is much that they share. In many case we are looking for some unique documentation of a special event, place or time.
In other cases we are trying to create an 'art form' where the photographer will include part of him / herself in the image.
This might include the use of black and white or monochrome, if this is appropriate.
The environment is important for a number of reasons.
The choices are clearly inside or outside and will depend on where you find your subject and where they feel most comfortable. More on this later.
Step #1 is to study our subject(s) and get acquainted.
Before you even consider taking a picture of a person(s) it is both politeness and necessary to obtain your subject's approval or consent prior to taking their picture. If you plan to use / provide this image for commercial purposes you must obtain a signed (legal) consent form from your subject.
The only exception to this is if you decide to use the 'ambush' approach and photograph from a hidden position using a tele-lens.
However remember the legal implications (laws on privacy) mentioned above which vary from country to country.
Step #2 is to attempt to relax your subject(s). This is most important as most people tend to pose in front of a camera.
Step #3 (portrait). A good image will indicate the personality of the subject with an emphasis on a 'good side' obtained with appropriate lighting.
Step #4 requires that you focus on the eye(s) of the person(s) central to your image and is usually achieved at eye level. This is also important when photographying children.
Step #5 (portrait). You may wish to have your subject turn their head either way and in the case of older women watch for the wrinkles as this is usually a sensitive issue!
In addition to the above, try to keep arms, head and shoulders in the same plane to avoid distortion especially if you are using a large / wide aperture.
Another recommended option is to have your subject(s) move around and be active in alternative positions allowing you a range of different images.
Again an important consideration!
Use a wide aperture (f2 - f4) to allow for a blurred background.
An exception to this suggestion is when you wish to add some 'background' to your image / subject allowing for more information to be displayed regarding your subject(s).
For inside work use the light from a window as your light source.
In the case of insufficient light an external flash maybe required where the light can be bounced off a reflecting surface such as a wall, a large white card or aluminium foil.
The quality of our light is (again) very important where soft, indirect light is the best. This can be found in open shade, misty conditions and over-cast days.
In many cases the use of your built-in camera flash (fill-in) maybe sufficient to remove the shadows from under the eyes and nose of your subject(s).
For portrait work use a 'medium' tele-lens of about 100mm focal length.
On the otherhand use a wide-angle lens for group shots where there is little room to move or there is a need for a greater depth of focus.
Photographying groups presents us with additional problems and challenges.
Try to group / arrange them such that there is a central figure / focal point.
Have them all look in the same direction and most important try to 'relax' them. Blinking eyes are a constant problem probably requiring multiple exposures.
Use a small aperture (large f stop) for depth of field and focus 1/3 in from the nearest to furthest subject for maximum sharpness.
Another option is to choose a reference point (of interest) and 'move' your subjects there for your picture.
Finally look for new ideas and have fun with your group!
Some more important general comments:
Try to keep a low profile by wearing appropriate clothing and working alone.
Be casual and relaxed.
Try to keep your camera as inconspicuous as possible as this immediately attracts attention.
If your image is not a portrait try to capture details of the environment.
The use of a wide angle lens will allow you to 'shoot' without raising the camera to your eye for composition (and attracting attention).
The use of the option 'continuous exposures' will allow you to capture changing expressions and moods.
Clearly being in the right place and at the right time is a big help!
Finally you will need sufficient patience to achieve the results you desire.
Photographing people is a challenge! We are not looking for a snapshot but rather attempting to show some of the special and unique features or characteristics of our subject(s) that are hidden from a casual glance. This not an easy task but when successful, justifies the effort!
If you found this article interesting and / or are interested in more information please contact me via my email address at: firstname.lastname@example.org