Photographing people: some photo techniques and tips to improve your photography

Photographing people: some photo techniques and tips to improve your photography

Portrait with buddha

Photographing people: some photo techniques and tips to improve your photography


So you want to take better photographs of People? There are many things to consider when you are focusing on people either as individuals or in group shot, indoor or outdoor, what types of lighting conditions are available.  It’s important to really be active and take part in with your subject instead of just being a bystander or observer, but this really depends on where, who and how you are photographing that person (s).

Here’s a few good pointers to improve your photo techniques along with tips on how to photograph people in any various conditions and environments:

1) First interact with your subject, don’t be sneaky when you take photos. Building rapport will make your subject comfortable will allow you to get closer, experiment and become more creative using various features on your camera with your subject


Photographing people: some photo techniques and tips to improve your photography

Hanging out with tricycles



2) To capture children it’s better get low and do tight shots. Photograph children from their level or even lower. Play and engage with your so they are more relaxed and comfortable. Have fun and capture them when they are playing because the expressions that come out are priceless and create amazing photography


Photographing people: some photo techniques and tips to improve your photography

Hanging out at the rodeo


3) Always focus on the eyes to get the details, do remember what people say about the eyes telling you everything about a person’s story, this is what you want to portray in your work.

4) Creating a shallow depth of field creates a nicer image focused on the subject with a nice soft/blurry background. Changing your cameras setting directly by opening up to the widest aperture (or with non DSLR to a people setting/icon) will give just the right effect of focusing on your subject and making the background soft.



Photographing people: some photo techniques and tips to improve your photography

Focus on subject and blur background



5) Be involved with your subject whether you are just interacting with them, working in a more candid format or being more playful in the process. When you are building rapport and observing your subject you should try to discover some unique quality, facial expression or help bring out the subject’s natural personality.


Photographing people: some photo techniques and tips to improve your photography

Rodeo portrait



6) Be aware of the light on your subject either indoor or outdoor and look for the most natural lighting you can find. On that note try to avoid harsh light or flash, if you need, try to find some shade which will help to distribute the light and create softer light on your subject.


7) For taking group photos, I usually recommend taking more shots since there will always be off moments to each person. Taking more photos will give you a better opportunity to capture that perfect group shot. Also, try to include the environment into the group portrait to create a more complete picture that helps to tell a story.


Photographing people: some photo techniques and tips to improve your photography

A group portrait in Tokyo



8) For baby shots, try to create more opportunities to capture those detailed moments and zoom in. Experiment with filling in the frame, zooming in on the baby, body parts, the mother’s hand touching various parts of her baby. Creating intimate moments starts with observing and then experiment photographing your subject


9) Include environmental portraits – based on your subject and their environment, clue into things that connect the subject to their environment if its their clothing, hairstyle, habits (ie smoking, eating), always try to make your subject fit or even contrast within the environment you choose.


A group portrait in Tokyo

Wedding at a Shinto temple



10) Take out all the distractions and keep the background clean – If you are going for any portraits or full figure captures, try to zoom into your subject and place them in a simple background or just try to crop out any distracting areas, or you can also move your subject around to a better location.

11) Street photography with people as subjects – don’t be shy – smile and try to connect with people, always ask or use gestures to see if it is okay and get better access,  try for more candid than stylized images which tend to be staged or stiff.

12) Outdoor shooting, avoid harsh daylight, find some shade or shoot on over cast days when you are outdoors and relying on natural light to photograph your subject.


Wedding at a Shinto temple

Outdoor shots in natural light



13) Festivals and events – if you can get to an event, always try to shoot people at these events and in their costumes. Most subjects are open to being photographed and it’s the best time to capture unique costumes, colors and especially people.


Photographing people: some photo techniques and tips to improve your photography

Flutist at a fall festival



14) Don’t always have your subject in the middle of the frame, put them off to the side, something in the foreground or even include leading lines that go directly to your subject like a street or building.


Wedding at a Shinto temple

Subject in the upper left with head partially cut off



15) Using burst mode – sometimes in a situation where things are happening quickly especially in street photography or events, you may want to put your camera into burst mode. When you see an interesting subject, focus and use your burst to capture the moment and activity. It’s so much easier to capture many images and then delete which ones that are not to your liking after the fact.

16) Be patient and wait – sometimes the best thing is to wait before you take that picture; if it’s bad lighting, a very crowded venue, or the location itself that isn’t working. Try and see what you what with your subject in their environment and if the timing is not good, sometimes waiting is a good option until you continue or think of an alternative solution that you can do on the fly.

These are some of my photo tips to consider when you are including people in your photography or doing closer portraiture work. Go ahead and experiment and try out these techniques and tips and hopefully you can make a difference to improving your photography skills.

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39 Responses to Photographing people: some photo techniques and tips to improve your photography

  1. Mario April 11, 2017 at 4:09 am #

    Great tips, Noel. Specially ebout interacting with the person you take the photo of. It sometimes is hard getting permission to take a photo and not disturbing the person in the activity/work he is doing. What i realized is, that having a pancake lens (less bulky) makes your camera seem “less intimidating”. also, disabeling the acuostic focus notification works wonders – why interrupt a traditional ceremony you are allowed to see with “beeping” all the time? 😉

  2. Terry April 4, 2016 at 2:54 am #

    Noel thanks for posting these tips, I am learning to create images and get very intense when capturing the scene to the point of forgetting to be in the moment so your tip are both timely. I will of course try to absorb the others and refer back to them as needed. Cheers

  3. Dean November 19, 2015 at 6:23 am #

    Great tips listed here. For the beginners, working with light can be a challenge. This is an important factor when it comes to photography. Mastering this will put you well on your way to becoming a great photographer.

  4. Andre Beluchi November 3, 2015 at 6:26 pm #

    Noel, pictures like these are what fascinated me whenever I look at them. A fine art photography is what comes to my mind when it comes to taking family pictures. It’s something that my wife and I are thinking about finding for tomorrow.

  5. Marilyn Jones August 27, 2014 at 9:39 am #

    Excellent photos; excellent advice!!!

  6. Michele {Malaysian Meanders} April 15, 2014 at 5:20 pm #

    Thank you for these tips. I’ve just looked through all my photos from Cambodia and decided most of the ones that are family shots or of my kids are pretty much crap (mostly due to uncooperative subjects). I really need to learn better techniques (and increase my bribery/threats). I always feel so shy taking photos of strangers. When I’m out with my white friends in Asia and see how they get inundated for photo requests and how much their kids dislike it, it makes me more reluctant to take photos of strangers.

  7. Antonette March 20, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    Wow – so much left to learn for me. Once back home from my current trip I’m going to invest more time into photography. Normally I never take pictures of people but maybe I should pick it up, some of the pictures above are just gorgeous!

  8. RPT March 20, 2014 at 6:55 am #

    Nice tips, but there’s something you should be aware of in your sample photos. I’m surprised no one has mentioned it. It is a huge no no (and extremely culturally offensive) to have your head above Buddha’s in a photograph. It means (symbolically) that you think you are “higher” than God. In the first photo you show two people not only taller than Buddha, but leaning on him very casually. I’m sure you didn’t do this on purpose, but to Southeast Asian Buddhists, this is as disrespectful as going into a wat in just your underwear, so I just wanted to mention it as an FYI.

    • Noel March 20, 2014 at 7:57 am #

      That’s very good to mention especially for traveling pictures. I didn’t consider it since the focus was on the father and son and the picture was taken in Hawaii. But those are valid points.

  9. Elena March 16, 2014 at 5:46 pm #

    Great tips- looking forward to trying them. I tried burst mode for the first time recently- was a huge help (was on a whale watching cruise- where instead of whales we saw several thousand dolphins).

  10. Marcia March 16, 2014 at 5:12 am #

    Very helpful tips, Noel. I like your tips about photographing children and older adults.
    Great shots, as usual.

  11. Mike (Nomadic Texan) March 15, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    Thanks for these great tips. I, like Suzanne, started out with a focus of writing more than photography. I have a Note 3 and Sony Nex 5R I believe. I am just starting out and having a blast trying to edit from RAW and I will experiment with some of your tips. Mahalo amigo!

  12. Marisol@TravelingSolemates March 15, 2014 at 11:14 am #

    Hi Noel, these are great photos and great tips! I attended a National Geographic Traveler photo workshop two weeks ago. The Nat Geo photographers gave almost the same exact tips. You can be one of them!

  13. Suzanne Fluhr March 14, 2014 at 10:51 pm #

    When I started travel blogging, I thought it would be all about the writing for me. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much I’ve also enjoyed taking the photos to illustrate my posts. Since I know I might be using them in a blog, it makes me think of the photos as story tellers. I’m extremely unsophisticated and much of my photography is done on my smart phone, but the Galaxy S4 I’m using is remarkably versatile (for an amateur). Baby steps.

  14. Greg Vaughn March 14, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    Great set of tips, Noel. Being primarily a nature photographer, it’s taken me a long time to get that tip # 1 is really key to good people pictures.

  15. Phoebe (Short Road to Happy) March 14, 2014 at 7:46 am #

    WOW! I’m clearly not the only one who enjoyed this post! Great work, thanks a bunch. Can’t wait to put these tips to good use!

  16. Lindsay March 14, 2014 at 6:30 am #

    Great tips, Noel. Just bookmarked this post!

  17. J Lawson March 13, 2014 at 6:27 pm #

    Great tips – love to travel and mix my photography with it and found this very helpful! More Photography Tips

  18. Christine |GRRRL TRAVELER March 13, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

    Lovely photos and great tips, Noel! Thanks for sharing. Love the shots of the paniolo kids.

  19. budget jan March 13, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

    Thanks for the tips. I loved your “Outdoor shots in natural light” photograph. It is superb.

  20. Lee Briggs March 13, 2014 at 3:44 pm #

    Some good tips here, thanks.
    I usually don’t photograph unknown people much. Sometimes I’ll include someone I’m with if I think it will add to the shot, but usually I’m more interested in photographing things rather than people.

  21. travelnwrite March 13, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

    Great tips and photos, Noel. I am wondering, though, about photo release and use permissions that you get from these folks. Do they know they will appear in a blog for instance? Do you send them links or copies of the photos as well? Just curious (I used to be a public relations director that had to worry about photo permissions all the time — old habits die hard and I still am a stickler about that).

    • Noel March 13, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

      If the image is used primarily as editorial they it should be no problem…I don’t get releases for images done publicly, although I usually I usually engage and try to get some approval ahead of time before I take a photograph.

  22. Viv March 13, 2014 at 6:56 am #

    Great photos and very handy tips for taking pics of people. Time to get the camera out and give some of these a try 🙂

  23. Stacey March 13, 2014 at 2:42 am #

    Thank you for posting these photo tips! You’ve given me some much needed inspiration!

    I love the photo’s of the kids’ best of all! Children are so expressive!

  24. Jackie De Burca March 12, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

    Extremely helpful tips and ideas Noel. I am very new to taking photographs, as in for my articles, but had a lot of fun recently at the carnival here in Vinaros – there’s something so fun and open about people once they get into costumes. Love the shots here, as always, in particular the wedding photo.

  25. Heather - the kiwi travel writer March 12, 2014 at 8:35 pm #

    Love the shot of the flutist! and thanks for the reminder re getting low for children

  26. Agness March 12, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

    Great tips! I just realized I don’t need to buy a new equipment to take good quality pictures!

    • Noel March 12, 2014 at 9:03 pm #

      Totally, replacing your camera is not essential if you still have a working camera…you just need to think out of the box.

  27. Paul (@luxury__travel) March 12, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    Thanks, Noel… great tips. I struggle when I move to manual. I appreciate the need to reduce the DOF to a low setting to cast the background out of focus and bring more attention to your subject… BUT… I really struggle then with the other settings and getting it just right. Does this just come from experience? I think I’m OK with ISO – if outside, 100 if it’s really sunny, 200 if it’s so-so… does that sound about right? But what about the shutter speed? I never seem to get it right first time and find myself (wrongly, I know) opting for auto or portrait mode and being lazy due to my frustration. Do I just need to practice more?

    • Noel March 12, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

      Yes, it takes practice and mastering each type of setting in your camera modes (do review your manual again). First try your shutter settings and play around with it, then with your aperture. Manual settings are more to master and depending on what you are planning to use and in what conditions. I would suggest getting more comfortable with the simple settings and get those mastered first and then progress to your next stage and always practise, practise, practise.

  28. Mary Calculated Traveller March 12, 2014 at 7:02 am #

    Great tips Noel… I especially like the one of the man in the market – I always feel like I want to put them entirely in the frame.

    • Noel March 12, 2014 at 8:11 am #

      Thanks Mary, your right sometimes it’s better to crop as much as you can so you can get a better overall shot that focuses on the complete environment or the person if that is what you are trying to capture.


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I look forward to hearing from you and continuing our discussion with any comment you would like to add

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