30 tips for taking people photos

People and pets are the most photographed and popular subjects. Whether it is taking people photos or photos of people with their pets, here are 30 tips for taking people photos to instantly improve your results.

1. Isolate your Subject. Emphasize your subject by blurring the background using a wide, fast lens and natural light. Remember to avoid trees, bright colors and trees as they stand out when captured in a background that is out of focus.

A blurred background emphasizes the main subject

A blurred background emphasizes the main subject

2. Which Lens do I Use? A wide angle lens distorts facial features so avoid using them when taking people photos. The best lens for photos of people and pets has a focal length of between 50 mm and 135 mm. A 50 mm lens will suit most SLR cameras when taking photos of people and an 85 mm lens is suitable for portrait shots. A 50 mm is cheap, light and has a wide aperture which makes them excellent for people photography.

3. Where to Focus. Use your subject’s eyes. If the eyes are in focus it will not be so obvious if other parts of the photo are out of focus.

4. Which way is Up? Here is a simple rule of thumb. If you are taking photos of single people then take your photos vertically. If you are taking photos of groups, like village people photos, then horizontal will be more suitable.

5. Keep it all Simple. The less technical things you need to think about when taking photos of people and pets, the more your focus will be on getting good photos of your subjects. Keep it simple. Use natural light as much as possible and avoid the need for a tripod to get great people shots.

Get great pet photos in your backyard

Get great pet photos in your backyard

6. The More the Better. Taking photos of more than one person at a time takes the focus off them individually and will help them relax. And, candid shots of children and pets at play can give good results.

7. Use the Preview Screen. When taking people and pet photos, use the camera’s preview screen to check the shot is in focus, your subjects are relaxed, there are no unwanted objects in the background (e.g., trees, poles), and the lighting is even.

Pet portrait photography

Pet portrait photography

8. How to Relax your Subjects. Taking good people shots is not just about the technical aspects. You need to know how to relax your subjects so they look natural. Try just holding a conversation and taking shots before they realize. Your subjects will soon relax.

9. Get as Close as Possible. Frame your subject so there is as little in the background as is possible. Sometimes a head and shoulders shot of people captures more than a full length photo.

Cut out as much of the background as possible

Cut out as much of the background as possible

10. Do not Detract from or Obscure your Subject. If you use something other than the main person to focus on in the foreground, be careful they do not obscure or detract from your people photos.

11. Avoid Shake without using a Tripod. Shoot people and pets with a long lens and using a slow shutter speed if you do not have a tripod, and use the camera bag to support the camera. Use a self-timer when using a slow shutter speeds to avoid camera shake.

12. Move Around. If you want interesting people and village people photos then get moving. Do not just stand still and expect to get good shots. Move around – sit, squat, lie flat on the ground – look up, stand on a chair to get height. The camera angle can be the difference between a good and great shot.

13. Make your Subject’s Eyes Glimmer. Use the silver side of a CD or a dull mirror to reflect light into your subject’s eyes.

14. Make your People Photos Dynamic. Look for leading lines, frames, and elements to use in the foreground to add depth to your photos. While photos are two dimensional it is better if they feel three dimensional.

A storm brews and adds depth to this portrait

A storm brews and adds depth to this portrait

15. Using a Flash. Prevent harsh shadows on your subjects by moving them away from inside walls that an electronic flash can bounce off.

16. Soften the Flash Effect. Use a very light orange gel on the face of your flash to give a warm glow to the light for softer effects when taking photos of people and pets indoors.

17. Have Patience. Shooting village people shots on the streets takes great patience. Street scenes change within seconds. Get comfortable somewhere and wait for that great shot.

18. Observe Natural Behavior. When taking photos of people interacting with their pets and each other observe how they interact, and think about how you can capture the essence of the relationship forever.

19. Using a Wide-angle Lens for Group Photos. If using a wide-angle lens for group shots be careful the edges do not distort.

20. Using your Telephoto Lens. When you use your telephoto lens for people photos use it to scan the surrounding background for interesting patterns to incorporate into your photos.

21. Anticipate the Behavior of Children and Pets. If children or pets are playing and interacting with each other, set up with your camera and capture their joy without them knowing.

22. Taking People Photos while Travelling. When travelling in foreign countries learn a little of the language so you can communicate a little with the people.

23. Practice makes for Perfect People Shots. Well, I do not know that there is anything that ever guarantees perfection but practice certainly makes you a better people photographer.

24. Don’t be Satisfied with just Wide-angle Photos. If something interests you do not just settle for a wide angle photo. Work your way closer to the subject until you capture the essence of what interested you in the first place.

25. Capturing People from other Cultures. Photos of people from different cultures need to capture the exotic nature of their differences with empathy.

26. Survey the Surroundings. When you first arrive on location to shoot people photos take notice of any interesting features you can use in your shots.

27. Working on Location. Carry as little camera gear as possible when working in people’s workplaces or homes so you make as little disturbance as possible.

28. Let Children Look. If children want to check the view through the camera lens – let them. It will help them relax while you take photos of them.

29. Soften the Subject. Experiment with different effects such as a soft focus in different situations to add interest to your people photos.

30. Stay on the same Level as the Subject. Staying on the same level as you subject gives a really nice result.

Now you have all these tips for taking people shots, grab your camera and get out there and try them out.