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Category Archives: Taking photos of people

Malta has the cutest colourful fishing boats, but they were surprisingly hard to get a photo of!

Malta Fishing Boat

cuban lady up close

Later on I will be covering How to take Photos of People Inside and Outside separately, so for now it’s just an overview of the general practises when taking photos of people.

People in General

  • Aperture Priority (AV)
  • Aperture of f/5.6  (to make the background blurred and the person really stand out!)
  • ISO 100
  • Shoot in RAW
  • Or if you have a Point and Shoot Camera – Portrait Mode


Shooting in Aperture Priority will give us control over our depth of field, by shooting at a aperture of f/5.6 or less, enables you to blur out the background so your subject stands out more.

Ask for permission before you take someone’s photo, most countries don’t speak English so a simple gesture of holding the camera up and smiling/nodding should be sufficient, as long as you are approaching people in a friendly manner they should be ok with you taking their photo, and it’s better to ask than take the photo and have an angry person running after you trying to grab your camera off you.

Do your research before you go as some cultures believe the camera captures their spirit or soul and will become very angry if you take their photo, even to the point of trying to take the camera off you. 

In some countries like Peru and Cuba the locals expect you to pay them if you want to take their photo, they dress up in traditional clothing and it’s their ‘job’ to stand around having their photo taken, other countries you can hire a model to walk around with you and get them to pose in traditional custom in front of places or doing things for your photos.

As well as people, sometimes it is common to be asked to pay for pictures of animals, again this is true in Peru where llamas are on the side of the road next to people dressed in traditional costumes, these are tourist favourites and as great as it is to get these photos, just be aware that most tourist will be taking these exact pictures so try to take it in a different way/angle or you will just end up with the same pictures as everyone else.

While this is all great do try to remember to take photos of other people as well as sometimes people dressed up in traditional costume is just for show for the tourist and not a real representation of what they would wear/or who they are.

Don’t give money if it is not asked or you, as this can be taken the wrong way, some people might be insulted, or think it is for something else(!) and others will then expect it from then on in, setting a precedent for other tourists.

Take photos of everyone – old and young, female and male, try to get a variety of photos.

You can always start friendly banter with the locals by letting them know where you are from, sometimes this works in your advantage especially if your country is known for something everyone enjoys i.e. New Zealand with the All Blacks or Lord of the Rings.

Try not to have a too distracting background, as this will take away from your portrait.

Take pictures of people in their environment, encourage them to keep doing what they are were doing, as they are likely to stop and pose for you but it’s far more interesting if they keep doing what they were previously doing, especially if its everyday activities that you don’t normally see like dying fabric for scarves or wood carving.

Try to take people’s faces and not the backs of their heads!  This is just common sense but you have no idea how many photos are of backs of heads.

Use the zoom on your camera for bold face shots, imagine weathered fisherman, or old Cuban lady with a cigar in her mouth.

We can identify with people more if they have had their photos taken in cloudy weather or under shade, than in full sunlight, as their pupils are open and they are not squinting at the camera.  So if the weather is cloudy use this opportunity to take photos of people!

Keep taking photos even after the sun goes down, your camera can capture more than you can see, but you will need to increase your ISO.

Don’t centre the person in the photo, think the rule of thirds and place them in one of the intercepting squares (Rule of Thirds to follow)

If they are looking off to one side or their eyes are looking in one direction add some space in the photo in the direction they are looking.

If you don’t get in close enough you can always crop the photo when you get home, do try to get it right at the time though as it’s easier to get it right than have to edit when you get home.

Learn a few phrases of the language so you can say Hello, and Thank You and even can I take your photo if you are really good!

Don’t ignore other parts of people too i.e. their hands if they have interesting tattoos etc, or if they are working with their hands, try a tight crop shot of their hands while they are working.

Don’t always get your subject to look into the camera, try capturing them while they are looking out in the distance or while they are looking at something else.

If the person is in the shade, try using your camera flash to get rid of the shadows on their face.

Try black and white photos as well these can be very striking especially if their face is worn with lines.