People have always been an interesting subject in photography. Every person is different from the others. Photographing people will allow you to capture the expressions or feelings they have in a particular moment, and as it’s said, a photograph is worth a thousand words. Through working on your composition and showing the context of the photo, you can channel the emotions you captured to the viewer.
One of the most popular forms of photography is portrait photography, where the face and expression of the subject are predominant. In portrait photography, the subject is usually one person or a group of people that have their attention pointed towards the camera.
This article will discuss the differences between taking photographs of people in a casual scenery and taking portraits of people. Although the subject is the same, in portrait photography only the person in the image is really important as the background is usually something neutral and has the role of drawing attention to the subject. When the subjects of portrait photography are non-professional models, the portraits are usually used to record commemorative moments, such as special events, weddings or graduations, or for family memories. But, there are some other applications as well for portraits, such as commercial portraiture or promotional portraiture, book covers that have an image of the author, for instance. The key element in portrait photography is the light and that’s why many portraits are taken in a studio environment, where the light can be easily controlled.
Unlike portraits, people photography is more about taking shots of people within their environment. If you’re photographing people on the street, for example, you’ll have to take more care of the details that compose the picture, in order to capture the moments that may give more interest to the image. An example could be people that pass near a shiny window where their reflection is seen, or a scenery with an interesting setting, such as a busy street full of people walking to their work places.
Photo by Yassine Hakimi
Tips for taking great people photos.
Find a good location where you can photograph people doing all sorts of things. Capturing a moment of their daily life can provide you with some interesting pictures. You can try finding a busy location with a lot of people, such as a crowded subway station or a busy market, where they won’t notice your presence. You will find yourself in the middle of a multitude of photo opportunities with different people in each shot. You can either make them aware of the fact that you are taking photos of them or not, but usually people who don’t know they are being photographed will seem more natural in the image.
Think about composition. Creating an interesting context for your subject can make an image look more impressive. For example, for a person at a corner of a street you can emphasize the fact that she/he’s waiting for something by including in the same frame other people that are passing by. Try to compose the image in a way through which it will include information about the person in the photograph. Their work place, their home, or the street they walk past can tell a lot about the people and their lives. Try to include enough from the background but don’t lose focus on your subject, as she/he must be the centre of attention of your photo, while the background’s role is to give a context to the image.
Pay attention to details. You can concentrate on a person’s eyes or hands for example. Look at what seems to be interesting in your subject, and make those elements stand out to help your photograph transmit something about that person.
What camera settings should be used for people photography?
When you’re shooting people that are not aware they’re being photographed, you’ll have to be careful not to end up with blurry pictures because of their movement. A good setting for your camera would be a wide aperture with a fast shutter speed and a low ISO number. A wide aperture, like f/2.8 will isolate the subject from the background. If you want to keep all the details in your photograph for both your subject and the background you should use a smaller aperture like f/8, as this will increase the depth of field and will keep more elements from your image in focus. If the environment doesn’t have much light, then you should use a higher ISO value, since the shutter speed should remain fast. However, if the person you want to photograph is standing still, you can opt for a slower shutter speed to keep the ISO value at a low number.
Tips for taking great portraits
Unlike shooting people who are unaware they are being photographed, when taking portraits you’ll have a subject that is posing in front of your camera. The advantage of taking portraits is that you can take the time to properly set the lighting around your subject. Since most of portrait photography takes place in a controlled environment and if you have proper lighting equipment, you can use the three point lighting plan, which is very popular for portrait photography.
The three point lighting plan is constituted of 3 or sometimes 4 lights that are used in different angles, bringing out the details of the subject in all 3 dimensions. The purpose of this lighting system is to create softer shadows and to resemble the natural light. It also helps to separate the subject from the background.
Although in portrait photography a white or grey background is usually used, you can try other options as well, as long as it doesn’t distract the attention from the subject. If you take portrait photos in a setting different from the studio, you can take advantage of the surroundings to find an interesting background. For example, in an office building you can use a large window as the background, especially if it’s lighted from the outside, it can appear almost white in the photograph. If you don’t have a neutral background you can try and focus your camera only on your subject and blur the rest of the image. This can easily be done with a wide aperture setting on your camera.
What camera settings should be used for portrait photography?
As you don’t have to worry about your subject moving, in portrait photography you can use slower shutter speeds and lower ISO values (100 or 200) to ensure you’ll have enough light entering the camera and a good image quality. A tripod is however recommended.
The aperture of the lens should be wide open to get a small depth of field and to make sure your subject is isolated from the background. A setting of f/2.8 or even lower on some lenses can be a good choice as it will also blur the background which we don’t want to be distracting.
Gear guide for people and portrait photography.
While almost any type of new DSLR camera would be a good option for this type of photography as they give good results, you must pay attention to your choice of lenses. They are the most important part of the camera and for portrait and people photography it’s recommended that you use a fast lens, a one with wide apertures. These lenses can provide a very sharp image of the subject and thanks to their wide aperture they can be used at high shutter speeds and still have enough light. One more advantage is the fact that you can blur the background of your image very easily if you focus on your subject with the aperture wide open.
Some lenses you can consider for people and portrait photography:
Prime lenses: They have a fixed focal length and they usually have the best quality. The images taken with them are very sharp; the aperture can be opened very wide and they don’t cost so much, because their mechanism is simple. Some options for prime lenses would be:
- 50mm prime lenses are a very good option because they have a medium focal length and they are cheap. Both Canon and Nikon have good options, you can try The Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor f or The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II
- 85mm prime lenses will give you a closer view of the subject, they are also very popular for portraits but they cost more. For example, there is the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM or if you are a Nikon user, The Nikon 85mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor . If you have a bigger budget, you can opt for some lenses with an even wider aperture like the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D AF Nikkor or the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM.
Zoom lenses: As some photographers prefer to have more versatile lenses with variable focal lengths, you can find some good options in this category too. However, zoom lenses have wider apertures and have almost the same quality of a prime lens but are very expensive.
Some options from Nikon and Canon would be:
- 70-200mm lenses with an aperture of f/2.8 are a very good option. This could be the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II for Nikon cameras and the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, for Canon cameras.
Photographing people is a great way to capture a moment in a person’s life.
Below are some examples of great people and portrait photography:
Photo by summersoulll
Photo by dcamacho
Photo by kilgore-trout