Photographing People Part III: Putting Your Subject at Ease

In my previous post I mentioned how I ask for permission when photographing people and in my first post I discussed lens selection. Today I’ll discuss how to work with the subject to put them at ease and make the best photographs possible.

Become a Fly on the Wall

Once you’ve received permission and are “in” don’t just stop after you’ve clicked a few photos! As long as your subject seems willing, hang around and keep taking pictures. Eventually people will get bored with you and you’ll become like a fly on the wall, able to observe and photograph people as they act naturally.

Picture of cowboys at a rodeo in Texas

I had been hanging around behind the scenes at the Bastrop Rodeo for long enough that the cowboys had forgotten about me. And it didn’t hurt that all their attention shifted to some poor bull rider getting bucked when I took this picture.

Make a Connection

To make a connection with the people I meet, I find it helpful to talk with them, whether that is before, after, or during taking photos. It is amazing what folks will share with me just because I’m willing to listen. I’m always grateful for having these windows into the other amazing lives being lived out in the world. Many times strangers not only turn into photographic subjects, but into friends.

Picture of a woman dressed as Marie Antoinette at Mardi Gras

I shared a laugh with this woman at the start of the St Anne Parade on Mardi Gras Day many years ago and we’ve kept in touch ever since.

Tricks of the Trade

Picture of a waitress in Marseille, France

At le Bar des 13 Coins in Marseille, I took this shot of the waitress during a moment when she was talking with some customers.

If the above two tips haven’t gotten your subject to relax, try photographing your subject while they are talking to somebody else. Often this simple technique provides just enough distraction to make the subject less camera aware.

While taking photos a simple reassurance of, “What you are doing is great,” can help to keep people relaxed.

Know When to Fold ‘Em

Occasionally I’ll see someone, get their permission, start shooting and then realize that the person just can’t quite forget about the camera. Some people are never able to completely relax, so I move on.

Also, I never want to wear out my welcome as a photographer, so I pay attention to physical cues that tell me the person is ready to be done with their photo being taken. Wrap up your shooting before you are asked to.

In the next posts I will discuss model releases and paying for photographs, lens choice, and much more. If there is anything else you are curious to know about how I work when photographing people, please leave a comment below.

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