How To Photograph The Best of People
Photographing people is one of the most challenging types of photography. They are complicated subjects, with emotions, expressions, gestures, and many stories. They aren’t just a ‘subject’, they come with a history, preferences, problems, and a unique beauty. While portrait photography is mostly staged or at least your subject knows about you, candid photography is more ingenue. You can focus on details or actions, and capture an entire world. People are characters in photography. It’s important to find your voice, to understand what you want to convey, and to give yourself time to understand people’s life. When you photograph people, you don’t do a simple art job, you tell a story.
Learn from the masters. There are so many great photographers who chose to photograph people. From Henri Cartier-Bresson’s street photography to Annie Leibovitz’ celebrities, from Cindy Shermans’ feminine stereotypes to Diane Arbus’ outsiders, this is a common subject. It’s the unique photographic perspective that makes an iconic image.
Focus on Details
Using a telephoto lens you can capture interesting details. People tend to have a lot of meaningful items with them. From clothes and accessories to phones, books, and food, they carry things that might help you discover who they are. Sometimes an image doesn’t need a face in order to tell a good story. A man reading a newspaper with a large title on stocks is just one example. Get a tripod and choose a good place (a park, a market, a city square). Install your equipment and wait. This may be a social research and the place you’ve chosen may have a word to say. Nevertheless, details will build a story.
Face expressions, body language, and gestures are some of the best features of people. Personal marks like freckles and wrinkles are very good effects. Use a small depth of field to blur the background and focus exclusively on subjects’ faces and hands. Pay attention to lighting conditions. You want your subject to be in full light. Some of the best images of people’s faces are taken in black and white. Black and white photography is great for contrast, for revealing lines and shapes, and for smoothing skin. If you try black and white photography, use an orange filter. It is particularly flattering for human skin.
Photograph people while they do a certain action. It can be a common daily activity or a more exotic one. Activities, actions, give them a sense of achievement. They also add a new dimension to your story. Moreover, people tend to behave in a special way while doing a certain action. This goes back to what you want to convey. For example, photographing during a ballet practice will give you a different type of subjects than photographing people playing chess in the park. Activity is part of our life and of our identity. Pay attention if you choose to photograph people in motion. Use a fast shutter speed, a tripod, and the lowest ISO possible.
Social gatherings, public events, and crowded cities are the best places to photograph people. This is because they offer various subjects in a single location. But true characters may be found in isolated villages, on trekking routes, and anywhere where there are people. It isn’t important where you find them. It’s important what message you want to convey. You can choose to take urban snapshots, to photograph happy faces, social categories, outsiders, homeless people, or any category that means anything to you. You have to find a connection between you and your characters. Diane Arbus used to say “For me, the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture.”