Tips for photographing people

Story and photos by Kene Sperry EBS Contributor

I’ve been photographing people for more than 15 years. It’s a passion I have for the human spirit and showing the beauty people express to the world. To put it simply: I love photography. It’s part of who I am.

Have you ever wondered how to photograph people without capturing awkward expressions and stiff poses? Typically, this happens because they don’t feel comfortable being in front of a camera, and it’s often something you’re doing—or not doing— that’s making them feel ill at ease.

The most important component in taking a great portrait, candid image or lifestyle photograph of people is to engage with them and be genuinely interested in their story. Learn what makes them tick:

I wanted to show the viewer what this father/daughter relationship was really all about and the light really shows the mood. They have forgotten about me taking their photo and are focused on each other. I photographed this image in the evening hours after a thundershower, when the weather and light were in flux.

I wanted to show the viewer what this father/daughter relationship was really all about and the light really shows the mood. They have forgotten about me taking their photo and are focused on each other. I photographed this image in the evening hours after a thundershower, when the weather and light were in flux.

What are they passionate about? Do they have family? What do they like to do to relax? What places have they traveled to? What food or music do they like?

I suggest finding common interests with your subjects to help them feel comfortable, and to coax them into a state of feeling open and not closed.

To photograph people well has little to do with f-stops or the mechanics of the camera but everything to do with how good of a listener and observer you are of your subject. Picking up on clues in their body language and what they are saying will help guide you.

It can be off-putting to come into a situation with the camera blazing straight off the bat, so the first thing I like to do when meeting with a subject is have my camera to the side and look for the beauty in them. This may be their eyes, smile, energy, kids, or home.

Find something about which you can genuinely share a compliment. This will help open them up to being photographed. You may also want to show them an image or two on the back of your camera to give them confidence in what you plan to do.

Another tip is to keep lighting in mind. When talking with your subject, put them in attractive and flattering light. This could be near a window with ambient light shining through. You can also orient them in the shade so there are no harsh shadows or squinting.

If you master your camera and lighting you create backlit portraits, lens flare or a number of creative and expressive ways to play with light.

Just keep in mind that you will want to show them an attractive and fun photo of them. And don’t forget to have fun yourself. Photography can be one of the most intimate and engaging interactions you can have with people.

You can see in the subject’s eyes that I am deeply engaged and interested in his story, thus the portrait represents his kind soul. The light is not perfect, but what makes this photograph work is the connection I have with the subject.

You can see in the subject’s eyes that I am deeply engaged and interested in his story, thus the portrait represents his kind soul. The light is not perfect, but what makes this photograph work is the connection I have with the subject.

Quick and helpful tips for photographing people:

Engage with your subject: What is their name, interest, passions? Who are their family and friends? What is a common interest you share?

Give a genuine compliment: This must be real and from the heart to have value, and there is always something kind you can say to someone.

Remember to breathe and relax: Your subject will unconsciously pick up on your energy and if you stay calm it will help the subject remain tranquil. Some of the best portraits come once the subject is calm. In the right light you’ll get a beautiful portrait.

Know the attractive angles: Shooting from above your subject will make them more slender looking and also keep them from being squared up with the lens. You can advise them about what looks good in a pose, but don’t force your subject.

Keep moving: Have fun and move around so you have a variety of perspectives. Motion brings emotion so keep your subject moving!

Kene Sperry is a local photographer who owns Eye in the Sky Photography. His philosophy is that love is the key. Visit eyeintheskyphotography.com to learn more about what Eye in the Sky has to offer.