How to be brave and photograph people


Relaxed, confident portrait subjects are one thing; what about relaxed, confident photographers? 

I'm just not that confident when it comes to taking photos of people.

It's something that we hear quite a bit from our students in the Photography School. For those of us who've been taking photos a long time across myriad scenarios, it's easy to forget how intimidating taking photos of people can be. We tend to focus our attentions on putting our subjects at ease and getting the most out of them, rather than considering how we approach the discipline. If you're a little on the shy side, a wee bit lacking in confidence when it comes to taking photos, or haven't had that much experience with portraiture, photographing people can be mighty scary. 

Of course, there is something of an chicken-and-egg situation happening here: the more that you photograph people, the more confident that you'll become doing it, but you need a certain degree of confidence to try it in the first place. 

To help along our students, together with anyone else who's interested, we've compiled these eight suggestions to help you overcome any feelings of inadequacy and photograph people with confidence. There's a lot more to it than saying: 'Just do it!'

1. Practise on something inanimate

When you're trying to understand lighting, get to grips with your camera, and pin down your point-of-focus, a stuffed rabbit or a cuddly giraffe will suddenly become your best friend. Thumper or George won't answer back, won't move without your precise direction, and won't get bored. They also have absolutely no inclination to laugh at you when you monumentally screw-up your exposure. Every photographer should have a cuddly toy.

 Bunny is a regular feature in Photocritic's photos (photo by Haje)

Bunny is a regular feature in Photocritic's photos (photo by Haje)

2. Hone your self-portraiture skills

When you need to graduate from an inanimate object to something that's living and breathing, you are the very best model that you have. You're free, you're always available, and the photographer and model are always working precisely toward the same vision. Set up the tripod and remote release and see what you can achieve.

 It was about making the most of the window light

It was about making the most of the window light

3. Photograph children

When we say photograph children, we don't mean ask them to pose and we don't recommend wandering down to the nearest park with all your camera kit unless you want some deeply disturbed parents phoning the police. We're suggesting photographing your own kids or grandchildren, or borrowing your nieces or nephews, and hanging around them with a camera while they play and enjoy themselves. You'll get to practise capturing fast-moving subjects in natural surroundings and they won't give a moment's thought to a camera if they're captivated by their play. They'll be natural and there's no need for you to be nervous.

 She couldn't have cared less about me and my camera

She couldn't have cared less about me and my camera

4. Be on the look-out for street performers

Photographing random strangers can be an awfully intimidating experience, but there's at least one group of people out in public who'd be incredibly unlikely to object to you photographing them: street performers. Be on the look out for mime artists, musicians, jugglers, dancers, and tumblers to hone your portraiture skills: from action shots to quiet moments, you shouldn't have to wait too long before you spot a perfect picture.

 In passionate embrace (photo by Haje)

In passionate embrace (photo by Haje)

5. Try shooting in a group

There's safety in numbers, so if you're a little hesitant of trying street photography alone, why not join or organise a photo walk?

If you're not looking to try street photography, think about pulling together a few friends who also take photos and have a group portrait session. You can try out new ideas on each other, discuss what it is that you doesn't work–and why–and have a little fun both in front of and behind the camera.

6. Have a plan

When you do finally feel ready to ask someone to pose for you, whether that's on the street, in the studio, or just in the garden, have a clear visualisation of what it is that you want to achieve. What should be the look and feel of the shoot? What sort of images are you aiming to create?

 This was all about photographing my mother in her finery

This was all about photographing my mother in her finery

Not only will having these questions answered ensure that you've planned what kit you'll need and give you an idea of the settings that you'll want, it will give you the confidence to direct your model appropriately. You'll feel in control, rather than winging along by the gusset of your undies. 

7. Work with someone you trust

When you finally pluck up the courage to ask someone to pose for you, whatever kind of shoot you're planning, ask someone whom you trust. You want someone who doesn't make you feel nervous, is patient with you, and isn't necessarily shy in front of the camera. My brother would stand a five card trick for me, but maybe it's your boyfriend, your auntie, or your oldest friend.

 My cousins trust me and I trust them

My cousins trust me and I trust them

The more confident you become in reading light, applying your camera, and directing your model, the easier you will find photographing people. Soon, you won't think anything of asking someone to sit for you. 

8. Remember to have fun!

Finally, remember that your mood is infectious. Even if you don't feel all that confident, a deep breath, a big smile, some background music, even a glass of wine, and a laugh and a joke will go a long way to relaxing your model. If you have fun, she or he will have, which will make the entire experience and the resulting photos so much better. You might even want to try it again!

 This series of photos was all about champagne, music, and a lot of giggling (photo by Haje)

This series of photos was all about champagne, music, and a lot of giggling (photo by Haje)