Photographing people is often one of the first actions after getting your new camera.
There are so many things you can accomplish with just one subject.
There are many tips out there, but ironically, they are often too complicated and are not that beginner friendly.
The tips here vary from self-focused tips mixed in with exciting yet simple portrait photography techniques.
This is a guide covering tips for photographing people.
We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):
Table of Contents
1. Set Your Expectations
Setting the expectations between you and your client is crucial.
Do not expect your subject/client to be a model and know what they are doing, do your part, and guide them along the way.
The techniques required to pose professional and amateur models will vary depending on their experience. Some people are easy to pose, and some are not.
The same thing applies to you! As a beginner, you should not expect yourself to nail the shot on your first attempt.
Be realistic, and do not build unnecessary pressure on yourself and the client.
2. Make It Simple
Beginners tend to be highly creative, and we love that aspect of them!
Beginners may know many portrait photography techniques, but if they cannot execute it properly, it will not mean much.
Keep it simple and use one technique at a time!
Slowly build up and nail every aspect slowly but surely. You do not always need a fancy dress, background, and lighting to make a good photo.
A simple photo with a simple background would be just as good.
3. Focus on Your Subject
The third tip on how to photograph people is the focus.
Similar to the last point, a photo should give the most focus to its main subject.
This can be achieved by helping your subject “pop out” with the outfit choice.
Selecting the correct focal length that focuses on your subject while using a non-flashy background will also direct the viewer’s focus!
4. Photograph from Eye Level
Since we are talking about how to photograph people, a primary rule of thumb would be to always take the shot at a proper height.
While taking photos at various levels is possible, we recommend trying to shoot from eye level for beginners because the height does affect your subject’s “vibe” or personality.
Taking photos from a high angle (above the eyes) makes the subject seem vulnerable or afraid.
Likewise, taking it from a lower angle may seem to cause the subject to appear more powerful and dominant.
5. Catch Their Emotions and Expressions
The Good Old’ phrase – “cheese” is not your best friend for catching expressions.
Do not force a smile or an expression from your subject, it often causes more harm than good.
Try to make it natural by having a chat with them, throwing in some dad jokes, and making them laugh.
The same thing applies if you want them to look serious, have a friendly conversation, and try to set the mood.
6. Use A Simple Background
Why are simple backgrounds so prevalent in “how to photograph people” articles?
Well, simple backgrounds help the viewers to focus on your main subject.
It directs them on where to look!
Environments that are too flashy or do not contrast your main subject may make viewers confused about where to look at.
Consider the brightness, contrast, and color. Choosing backgrounds with subtle patterns is a solid choice! Not too dull, but not too flashy either.
7. Make the Most with What You Have
As a beginner, you may not have the best equipment or a wide array of lenses.
So, learn how to use your camera to its fullest!
Having less equipment but more knowledge is always better!
Remember that your photos are only as good as your skills and not your gear.
8. Get the Right Lens for The Right Situation
Although contrasting the last tip, one lens cannot be used for 100 different scenarios.
If you are aspiring to be a “jack of all trades” photographer, you will need many lenses.
Different effects can be achieved with specific lenses. We recommend grabbing lenses based on your needs.
But if portrait photography is your niche, choosing an 85mm and a 50mm should be enough.
9. Make Sure the Photo is Sharp!
To perfectly nail your shots, you need to make sure that the camera is focused on your subject.
To be more specific, the subject’s eyes.
The best way to make sure that your focus is on-point is to zoom in to the eyes and make sure.
Many photos would seem focused on the eyes, but in reality, the camera may be focused on their necklaces!
10. Adjust Your Lighting
Lighting may be a very technical subject, but learning the harshness of your light can drastically change your photo!
As a simple rule of thumb, the more defined the shadow’s outline is, the harder it becomes.
Beginners should generally avoid hard light unless they know what they are doing.
Soft light is more satisfying and makes skin imperfections less visible.
11. Learn Compositions
There are many compositions in the world of photography.
The most popular ones are the rule of thirds and negative space.
The “rule of thirds” concept helps you identify where to place your subject!
Maybe put them off-center to the right. While learning the idea of negative space will help you to narrow down the viewer’s focus.
These compositions will make your pictures more interesting, and give you a starting point if you don’t know what to do, and there are still many compositions out there to learn and experiment with.
12. Try Various Poses and Colors
Poses and color palettes heavily affect the emotion and “feel” a photo has.
Consider using assorted colors to illustrate various feelings and sentiments expressed by the subject.
For example, give your subject a monotone/dark outfit and a colorful background to provide it with a harsh contrast.
This idea offers the feeling that the subject is out of place or does not belong in the current environment.
13. Try Using Various Properties and Compositions
Maybe you have seen it on YouTube or another social media platform, people do use various properties and place them in such ways to give a different nuance to the photo.
You can create a bright backlight with a bonfire to make your proposing subjects more dramatic and romantic.
Maybe introduce massive amounts of negative space to give off a more peaceful and solitary element to your photos.
The sky is the limit when you already have a grasp of the concepts and know what you are doing.
14. Learn to Edit!
Editing is a great way to cover up minor flaws in your photo.
You can make your subject’s skin as smooth as silk, or you can make them bulkier and everything.
Most of the time, a simple preset is enough.
But there are some moments where editing is not that needed.
Everyone does not need the perfect body or face; they are good enough as they are.
This may be an unpopular opinion, but embracing your subject’s flaw and making it the highlight is just impressive.
15. Relax and Experiment!
The last but not least tip on how to photograph people is to take it easy and have fun experimenting.
It is a known fact that there will be people who take less time to be good at photography.
Sometimes you may feel that you are falling behind, but everyone has their own timeline!
Do not be discouraged and have fun while experimenting with new tricks!
Maybe you want to make your pictures more dramatic, then add some backlight!
Learn, try, and perfect your skills. Take it easy and have fun!
You can easily apply these tips straight away but do not burden yourself by trying them all out at once.
Start by managing your expectations and learn the basics of how to photograph people.
Then continue to the more technical stuff such as composition, the usage of properties, and editing.
Your equipment should not make a significant impact in your shots; your knowledge, however, should. So, start practicing and have fun experimenting!
Nate Torres is a portrait photographer servicing the Orange County and Los Angeles areas. He specializes in portraits of individuals, couples, groups and headshots. Nate Torres is also a photography writer and content creator and educates other photographers on portrait photography, composition, editing, gear, and business. You can find his content on his personal website, social media, and YouTube Channel, as well as on blogs such as Fstoppers, Photofocus, and Imaginated. Being a former SEO consultant, Nate also teaches other photographers how to use SEO to grow their own photography business on his educational blog, Shutter SEO.