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On Photographing People

Photographs of people have a special role in the world of photography. There’s something about a photograph of a person that creates an inherent attraction in a way that a photograph of a mountain, or a scenic landscape never could. We are social creatures by birth and people are the most important things in our lives.

We are able to tell so much by looking at people. We read cues from faces, body types, gestures, and even seemingly minute characteristics people possess. Most of the time we only look at people for a few brief seconds. It’s impolite to stare, but photographs allow us the ability to play the voyeur.

So the first and most important thing about taking pictures of people is the subject. The lenses and settings are secondary to the look of the subject. Usually photos of people are designed for flattery. You want to make your subject look good. What type of good depends on the type of style you are going to convey, and they type of mood you want to capture and convey in the photo.

Another thing to remember is that while photographs of people are relatively new, pictures of people are not. Perhaps the best pictures of people have already been created. Renaissance era artists were obsessive about painting pictures of people. They obsessively studied every aspect of portraiture and worked to create the most striking, beautiful and evocative portraits they possibly could, and they did a perfect job at it. So if you are thinking of taking serious portraits of people, don’t forget those who came before. Historians have dedicated large chunks of their lives to studying the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci, and his portraiture styles. Anyone who endeavors to create amazing photos of people has something to learn from these great masters.

The technical aspect of portrait photography is quite a bit easier then understanding the elusive philosophy of visual human representation. Most of the time you want to have your subject sharp and in focus, so use an adequate shutter speed. In terms of lenses, typically a longer focal length lens will be better. Wide angle and fish eye lenses cause distortions that are typically not attractive, unless you are looking for this type of effect. Large apertures are also a good bet, they can help soften your subject a bit, and also can help isolate them within a composition.

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