how to photograph people
Tips that make your portraits look great



One important photography skill to master is to learn how to photograph people. You're bound to eventually come into situations where you want to photograph people and have them look great.

There are a lot of articles on taking pictures of people and it can be confusing on what's the best thing to do. It's important to just take a second to think on what the photo is all about.

pose of 3 kids

Do you want the photo to be about your subject involved in an activity?

Is it a photo to show off just the features of an individual's face?

Even though this photo on the right has my 3 subjects facing away from me, it tells a story. I discussed the clothing choice with my client before we met at the lake.

It's not an award winner. I wouldn't enter it in a photo contest; but, my client liked it because it was a little different than the average portrait pose. I placed the youngest sister in the middle to contrast her clothing as well as her size in contrast with her older siblings.

These children were watching a local fisherman in his boat. Notice how the direction of the sunlight from a 45 degree angle on the left creates a feeling of texture and depth to their clothing. Always remember to pay attention to the existing light in outdoor photography.

Watch this helpful video below. It's full of posing tips with respect to composition. It's a great place for you to start.

how to photograph people that you don't know

We'll start with some photo tips on photographing people that you don't know. Then I am going to give you some photography tips for how to photograph people that you do know.

If you are taking pictures of people that you don't know, here are some tips on what you may want to do.

1. ask permission to photograph a peson first

photo of a cook in the kitchen

If the person that you are photographing is the main subject, always ask permission. Establishing good eye contact and having a friendly smile do wonders for getting permission.

In this photo of the cook, I composed it to include the pots and pans behind him to make it a casual, environmental portrait. I held the camera close to my face, hesitated, then smiled. He returned the smile and I took the photograph.

2. know the culture of your subject

Be aware of cultural differences if you are traveling to a new area or another country when you photograph people.

Did you know that the "thumbs up" sign that we use here in the United States could mean "up yours" in another country. In Thailand, Iraq and Iran the "thumbs up gesture is considered quite offensive.

Photo of thumbs-up gesture

The "Okay," sign, made by connecting the thumb and forefinger into a circle and holding the other fingers straight, may signal the word okay in your country.

That same gesture is offensive in parts of the south and middle of Europe. If you can tell your potential subject is uncomfortable, respect their privacy and leave them alone. Sometimes starting a simple conversation or giving a simple, sincere compliment can break the ice, before you ask permission.

how to photograph people that you do know

If I am taking pictures of people that I do know, I sometimes direct them gently like a professional photographer should.

3.  Direct your subject to pose naturally

How to direct the pose with someone you do know - example 7

Observe your subject and their posture and determine if it makes a good photo. Some people naturally assume a relaxed position and others will feel and look awkward.

Have your subject turn to a 30 degree angle so that they're not facing perfectly forward. In this photo of my young model, I told her how to position her hand and how to tilt her head gently against the tree. I used a camera setting to give a shallow depth of field so that the background would be out of focus.

For more on depth of field, go to my article here.

4.  Photograph people in a good location

Look around and observe the background, any objects you can use as part of the pose, and the existing light as well. With individuals and group photos of people, you can often find ways to "frame " them in.

For outdoor portraits, I always try to find open shade. This allows my subject's eyes to be fully open and relaxed. 

good location to photograph peoplePhotograph people in a spot with natural lighting and a pleasing background

Using these tips on how to photograph people will make your photography more enjoyable. You can learn more ways to improve your portrait photography by getting photo tips from the other posts on this site. See the links at the end of this article or use the search box for specific topics.

5. photograph people in a way that tells a story

How to have your photo tell a story - example 6

In this photo from a vacation in Yellowstone National Park, I positioned myself to get the "s" curve on the boardwalk.

It leads the viewer's eye into the photograph. 

When the children view this photograph in the years to come , they will remember the winding path through the wilderness, the trees, the fallen logs and the amazing bison and other wildlife as they hiked.

This photo is more of a candid story-telling pose. Here are a few posing tips on how to photograph people in a more structured family portrait style.

6. how to photograph families with small children

How to photograph a group of four people

Generally, it's better to have smaller children posed in front of larger adults. The children become closer to the camera so they don't appear too small. 

Additionally if they are "blocking" part of their parents' bodies, the parents don't appear too large. This was a casual pose of this family, using the couch as a posing prop. Find more on posing family portraits.

Knowing how to photograph people in their own home takes a bit of practice. Looking at colors, lighting, the number and size of the people that you are going to photograph all effect how you photographs will turn out.

how to photograph 2 year-old people

This two year old was full of energy and wanted to run around and explore my outdoor portrait park. I used the chair as a posing tool and a base to slow her down. 

Having her in a standing position really showed off the dress her mom had brought for her to wear that day.

I could have made it an even better photograph if I been able to chose a simpler background.

If you would like additional information, there are a many printed books on this topic. I know. I have a small library of books on portrait photography as well as other "How to photograph...." a variety of subjects.

related how to photography articles

Eyes and Portrait Photography Making portraits with more impact by having your subjects eyes follow you everywhere. The importance of eyes and how to photograph people with regard to the impact of perspective, photography lighting. and composition.

Family Portrait Tips. This article is good to read if you want to get a few general tips on outdoor family portrait photography as well as few sample poses you can copy.

Newborn Portrait Photography. If you have an interest in information about newborn portrait photography, you might enjoy reading this.

Portrait Poses. Would you like to get some photography tips on the posing of head and shoulder portraits? This article is on individual portrait poses> and also has some links to family portrait ideas.

Photography Poses. If you are interested in how to photograph people in a group of 3, you may want to read this. I've had the fortune to be a family portrait photographer for over 25 years, so I've come up with 4 simple tips on how to pose a family portrait.

Creative Family Portraits. Are you stuck for an idea on getting creative for a family portrait? Sometimes you need to look elsewhere to find some inspiration for something different.

Pictures of the Elderly. Watching people walk by is an activity that many enjoy. Looking at photos of people gives you the opportunity to study a moment in time.

Photographs capture the individual characteristics of their faces. This article has 6 unique head shots of the elderly and my give you some incites into how to photograph people.

Photos of old people. These photos of old people show how lighting plays an important role in your photos of old people and also how rewarding photography of elderly people can be.

There are more digital photography tips on this site, such as: composition tips, how to avoid common photo mistakes, photo exposure and digital camera settings. It's my intention for you to have fun improving your photography in general and specifically enjoy knowing how to photograph people too.

I hope you found some helpful tips on how to photograph people. For more in-depth information see the links below my signature.

Article published by Bruce Lovelace


Bruce is the publisher of this website. He is the author of the book "Improve Your Photography Instantly."  Read more on Bruce on his Bio Page. He's been known as The Traveling Photographer ever since 1994. Read more about this website.

View some of Bruce's photos on Instagram.   Visit the Facebook Page. Watch him on YouTube.  Bruce runs photo workshops for kids and adults, and provides one-on-one photography coaching.

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