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FORUMS Photography Talk by Genre People Talk
Thread started 12 May 2012 (Saturday) 11:39
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How to shoot people!

Mahgnillig's Avatar
203 posts
Joined May 2011
Carson City, NV
May 12, 2012 11:39 |  #1

Hi all :)

I'm looking for some advice on how to photograph people. I usually shoot landscapes, buildings, animals, some macro & abstract/experimental, but virtually never people. I'm not adverse to learning, it's just that I don't know many people who want their photos taken...

So here comes the conundrum... a friend of my husband recently saw some of my work (some landscapes and a couple of abstract pieces), and asked him if I could do a photo session with his family and their classic car. Like I said, I'm not adverse to shooting people, I've just never done it before and don't want to floof it up. I certainly won't be charging for the session... but I would like to do it right. This would be an outdoor shoot at an old gas station with mum, dad & 2 young children. Does anyone have any suggestions, first of all on what equipment I should use, and secondly, if there are any good books/resources out there for learning this stuff?

Equipment wise, I have a selection of lenses to choose from: Sigma 10-20, 18-55 kit lens, 50mm 1.8, 100mm 2.8 macro, 55-250 kit lens, and an XSi. The 50mm 1.8 is my lens of choice for animal portraits, but I'm guessing wider is better if you're trying to fit a car into the shot as well. I also have a speedlight and a set of radio triggers, and a tripod. I've never used the flash for outdoor photography, so I'd really like to hear from the experts whether it is necessary to use it for fill flash. What about other accessories like bounce cards & umbrellas? I've never played with those either, but I don't mind investing in some if they're necessary.

Book recommendations are always welcome as well... I enjoy reading about photography, but most of my books are about landscapes, exposure or creativity... I really don't have anything to give me any pointers about doing portraits. Pretty much all I know is that you shouldn't cut people off at the joints, and on-camera flash is bad ;)

Canon EOS 7D Mark II | Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM | Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 |

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Senior Member
675 posts
Joined Feb 2008
Kansas City
May 18, 2012 08:28 |  #2

Wider is going to make the background (the car and the gas station) appear smaller. It will also distort more, something that most human subjects don't find too flattering. If you can back up enough I would consider using the 55-250 (or the 100mm macro).

I don't have a suggestion on books, sorry. But you might want to try googling for how to light groups, which in my opinion is significantly harder than lighting individuals. You might even widen your search for something like "how to photograph and light a bridal party", as wedding photographers have to deal with this all the time. If the location has good natural lighting at a particular time of day you might just want to make your first attempt without the flashes.

whuband's Avatar
1,433 posts
Joined Jul 2007
Jacksonville, Florida
May 23, 2012 14:29 as a reply to dave_p's post |  #3

I wouldn't spend any extra money just to do this since you don't usually shoot people. Pick a day with some nice light (cloudy is often good to minimize car reflections) and shoot away. I would say that looking at other work on this forum is as good as most reference sources.

1D4, 6D, 7D2, Sony a6000 with Sony16-70, Rokinon 12mmf2, Canon lenses: 17-40L, 17-55 f2.8, 10-22, 50mm 1.4, 85mm 1.8, 70-200mm IS 2.8, 300mm 2.8 IS, 580EXII (3), 430EX, Alien Bees.

dumb remark memorialized
28,936 posts
Joined Dec 2006
May 23, 2012 14:45 |  #4

LIke dave said above, use a longer lens and back up. Its more flattering and it keeps perspective distortion at bay. Shoot in the last couple hours of the day. That means you dont have to fight having too much light. Ideally for family groups its nice to have the sun behind and then use the flash for fill in the front. With all those added scene elements car, gas station, you might not have that option, plus only one flash to fill that sort of group may be a challenge.

Try doing a google image search with family cars etc to see if you can find some similar images to use as a posing guide.

Cream of the Crop
14,021 posts
Joined Jun 2008
May 29, 2012 12:20 as a reply to gonzogolf's post |  #5

the 50mm 1.8 and bounced flash (and off camera) will get you nice people shots, outdoors use the 55-250IS zoomed in for a blurred background

garbidz's Avatar
Joined May 2005
Reunion Island
May 30, 2012 12:33 |  #6

Just pretend that they are trees and you'll do just fine.
The only real difference is that people move, sometimes even the way you ask them to.
Take lots and lots of shots.
My favorite light is the seaside 3-4 of hours before sundown. It is like a humongous wall of pleasantly warm light coming through a softening mist. Try to find a spot with the least possible background details. If you can shoot uphill against the sky or a distant monochrome something, like a forest or a mountain all the better. People look at photos to see their own faces and, in the case of the guy, his classic car. He'd probably appreciate a shot of himself and the logo (a Jaguar or a Pinto?) recognizable, sharp and well lit.

It is a good idea to use a focal length you are used to.
Most award-winning shots have been taken with a normal lens since decades now.
The trick is not to shut them down all the way but taking advantage of their limited DOF.
Which you knew already.

Why don't you practice with your own family before the assignment?
The forz be with you. You are doing it for fun, right?
If not, don't.


For $20, I'll be your friend.
Chet's Avatar
42,010 posts
Gallery: 90 photos
Joined Sep 2007
May 30, 2012 12:35 |  #7

If you shoot more to the right, I've noticed the left suffers just a bit much to be acceptable. Once in post the shadows can be rectified over the highlights to even the middle balance off center.

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How to shoot people!
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