Let’s face it, sometimes it can be tough to photography people! Here are our top 10 tips for improving your portrait photography!

Learning the in’s and out’s of how to photograph people can take you very far in your photography hobby or even photography career.  Photographing people can be a very intimidating and daunting task! After all, there is implicitly a lot of pressure on the photographer when taking people photos as your subject is often awaiting to see the results and final images!  Being a great people photographer often starts with being a good people person.  If so, then you are well on your way!  In this post I am going to give you the guidance, tips, tricks and confidence that are guaranteed to improve your people photos!

Quick note: Click on most of the photos to be taken to the specific blog post if you’d like to see more photos from their photo session.

1. Aperture Priority Mode

Having your camera set to “aperture priority” mode will easily let you control depth of field.  Depth of field is how much or how little you want to be in focus in your photo.  When photographing people, depth of field is among the first thing I am visualizing before pushing the shutter. This is when I decide how much and what I want in or out of focus. To learn more about the 4 major camera modes, read this post we have written.

AP mode allows you to easily select your aperture, while your camera will decide you shutter speed.  This is great for when you quickly want to change your depth of filed without worrying about changing your shutter.  Many professional photographers use Aperture Priority mode, especially in quickly changing conditions, like at weddings or with fast moving family sessions. To keep the focus on subject below, a wide aperture,f/1.8, was selected to blur background.

how to photograph people photography tutorials aperture

2. Single Person Photos vs Group Photos

When photographing a single person, experiment with shooting “wide open” on your lens at the widest aperture (lowest f/stop number, like f/2.0 for example) to achieve a nice background blur. This will cause your subject really “pop” off the image.

However, for group shots, like the one below, do not shoot at such wide apertures as this can cause certain people to be out of focus. In this case, because they are staggered, and not on the same “focal plane,” you’ll want to increase your aperture to f/4.0-f/8.0.  This will allow to get the entire group in sharp, crisp focus (which is what you want)!

how to photograph people photography tutorials aperture

3. Use a Longer Lens

Using telephoto lenses for single person and small group photos can help in two major ways.  First, longer lenses typically have a more thinning look for your subjects. Secondly, one key determinant of depth of field is lens focal length. The longer the lens, the easier and more the background blur you will have.  As discussed above, this will isolate your subject in your photo from the background. This is a pleasing look for portraits.  Some ideal lenses would be a 70-200 f/2.8 or 85 f/1.4 or f/1.8, if you only have a telephoto lens that came with your camera than use that lens at the longer end of its zoom range. Using a long zoom like the Nikon 70-200 f2.8, was critical for this photo below.


how to photograph people

The photo below was taken with the Nikon 85 1.8G lens @ f1.8.


how to photograph people photography tutorials

4. Use a Wide Angle to Incorporate Environment

Feel free to mix it up and use a wide angle lens when you want to incorporate natural or architectural elements into your photo.  Not only is this good to have versatility in your imagery, but it also can really add to the overall look of the photo by having stunning landscapes incorporated into the composition. Lenses that can incorporate landscapes would be a 24mm, 35mm or even a 50mm.  For a complete guide to portrait lenses, check out this awesome tutorial! In the photo below, a wide angle lens was used to incorporate the beautiful greenery!


how to photograph people photography tutorials


how to photograph people photography tutorials

5. Talk

Talking to your subject is huge! So start chatting! It keeps it personal, fun and a lot more relaxed.  It is a natural feeling for people to close up when a camera is pointed at them. It’s crucial to break through that barrier and communicate with them during your session.  As you are taking the photos, be reassuring and verbally let them know how good the photos are looking. This confidence boost will give them energy and let them to just relax and be more comfortable in front of your lens.  If you are known to be a comedian, make sure to crack a joke here and there and get them laughing to elicit candid expressions from them.

If you’re an introvert, just go in to your session confident and be willing to play the part of the chatty photographer! Remember, this is a job and it’s ok to put yourself out there a little. This doesn’t mean you have to be someone different, it just means turning it up a notch. Be happy, talk and the session will flow smoothly!

6. Show the Goods

A great tip that I learned when I first started was when you get a really great photo, show it to them on the back of your camera!  This will not only give them a little treat by seeing an advanced look of the images, but will get them excited and confident that you are getting some great images. You don’t have to show them ALL your photos, just the ones you really feel you nail in camera (like ones with great exposure and awesome composition)!

7. Don’t be Afraid to Give Direction

Being a wedding and portrait photographer, it is important to realize that most of the people you will be photographing are NOT professional models. The fact is, they don’t know which poses look natural and which do not.  Feel free to show your subject a pose that you have in your mind by doing the pose yourself. That way can visually see what you have in mind and will feel less awkward doing it themselves. A fun shot (below) of us laughing at myself when giving direction and helping show the pose I had in mind.


how to photograph people photography tutorials

8. “Work the Pose”

Once you get your subject or subjects into a flattering and good looking pose, work the pose by shooting it from different angles and perspectives. You can even ask your subjects to look different ways. The result will be a variety of slightly different looks and viewpoints that you can then pick your very favorites from. You can back up, get in close to capture their emotion, fill the frame, shoot from above and the sides, get on the ground, all while your subject(s) stay in one position and pose! You can literally get 10 differnt “looks” without having to move anything but your feet!

By having subjects sitting it allows for multiple angles to photograph from.
how to photograph people photography tutorials

A completely different looking shot despite using same lens and couple in same pose by adjusting angle & composition.how to photograph people photography tutorials

9. Be Mindful of Extreme Angles

Angles, when used effectively can work to your benefit. However, be careful of angles that aren’t flattering for your subject.  For example, a ultra low angle looking up towards your subject may look interesting and creative but low angles often are not flattering to your subject. You never want to shoot up your client’s nose!

A birds-eye view offers a different vantage point.
how to photograph people photography tutorials

10. Candids, Candids, Candids!

Everyone loves candid photos, as they are some of the most natural photos you can get.  There are two ways to get candids. One way is by prompting your subjects and talking to them, which can often create a candid moment. The other way is to simply just stand back and be a observer.  In the observer role, try to use a telephoto lens and no flash if possible so you can secretly stand back and snap photos. You can do this without drawing attention to yourself by being obtrusive.  Simply giving your subjects some space and letting them have the chance to interact with one another, you can grab those “in-between” moments that are often fun and laid back. Just make sure to be ready and anticipate the moment or you may miss it!

how to photograph people candid photography tutorials

Great candids are everywhere, take your camera to your next party and get ready to catch that moment!
how to photograph people photography tutorials

11. Have Fun!

Ok…I know I said 10 tips but I guess you all get a bonus tip today. This may sound like a no brainer but, have fun!  When you are having fun on your photo shoot, your subject will feel your positive energy and also relax! Don’t just treat it like work but give your subject or clients an experience and a good time (with a new friend). Your photos will thank you later! Your clients will remember their experience over everything, which translates into how much they love their photos!

Here I am after getting soaked by a wave shooting in the water! Make picture taking fun!
how to photograph people photography tutorials

I really hope that these quick tips help you out and most of all help show you quality ways of how to photograph people.  If you liked this tutorial make sure to sign up for the mailing list where you can get my new free Lightroom presets collection!

As always…don’t be a stranger! Talk soon.

Cole