People and Portrait Photography Tips

People are one of the most common subjects to photograph, but to show them at their best could often present a challenge, so here are some people and portrait photography tips.

We can photograph people in a lot of different ways – having a documentary approach, creating art or fashion photos, business or lifestyle portraits or just everyday family pictures. Each genre has a different purpose which drives the creative process behind taking the photograph. There are many things you need to consider to be successful in photographing people.

Women working at a building site / Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India/ Ivo Popov Photography / Fuji XT-2 and Fuji 56mm F1.2


  • Cover your basics. Being familiar with some basic settings on your camera is the first step you need to take. Make sure you know how to use your camera in Aperture priority mode (and how to adjust your exposure compensation) or in Manual mode.
  • Practice using available light to get the most of your photos. Most people feel at a loss when they have to consider how to use natural light to their advantage. Direction of light, proper exposure and right posing of your subject are crucial.
  • Consider getting a fast prime lens (if you don’t already have one). A good carpenter never blames his tools, but he’ll tell you about the importance of having the right tool for the job. Even a cheap 50mm F1.8 lens will do miracles when photographing people.
  • If you want to use flash for your photography, get a dedicated speed light and remote flash triggers to use the flash off camera for much better results. Flash photography is a completely different beast. It is not that hard, but definitely the more you practice, the better you will get. Off camera lights are a must! There are numerous options available for flash triggers, some of them quite affordable.
Portrait of Lilia Ivo Popov Photography Fuji XT-2 and Fuji 56mm F1.2, Natural light only


  • Do not forget that the background in your photos is as important as the foreground. Background detail is imperative in adding a sense of place and defining the character of your subject. However, be mindful when composing your photos so that the background doesn’t distract or get attention away from your subject. The main focus of your portraits should be your subject.
  • Get closer, go further away, get low or climb higher. Photos taken from the same angle and height get boring fast. The most common mistake made by photographers is that they are not physically close enough to their subjects. Viewers can sense when the subject is small, because it was supposed to be small and when it’s small, because the photographer was too shy to get close.
  • Go slowly. Anticipate peoples behaviour by observing them. An important element in people photography is knowing your subjects well enough to be able to anticipate what they are going to do. It’s the only way you are going to be able to get meaningful pictures of them. If you expect to just wait until you see the proper moment to take the photo, you might not be able to react fast enough and you might miss it.
  • Engage with your subjects, most people feel uncomfortable in front of the camera. This is where we all have a lot to learn how to overcome our shyness and approach people in an open and friendly manner. Learn how to engage the person in a conversation, just as you would if you didn’t have a camera.
  • Include hands and eyes in your photos. People say the eyes are the door to your soul. Never cut the eyes or your subject’s palms unless you absolutely need to.
  • Think about the essential compositional techniques when framing your portraits. Having a great composition in your photos can make even a boring photo look interesting. Applying some basic compositional techniques, such as the rule of thirds, to your photos is essential!
  • Create stories, not just snapshots. Environmental portraits are interesting and engaging. Portraits are about people. Environmental portraits are about people and their stories. Environmental portraits seek to convey an idea about a person by combining portraiture with a sense of place. One of the benefits of photographing people in a natural environment is that they will feel more relaxed and comfortable being photographed resulting in better and stronger photos.
Family portrait / Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India / Ivo Popov Photography / Fuji XT-2 and Fuji 23mm F1.4 , Natural light only

Did you like this people and portrait photography tips? Would you like to know more? Consider attending my new “Photographing people using natural light and flash” photography workshop in Brussels.