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Photographing People

Lesson 8 from: The Storyteller's Guide to Taking Better iPhone Photos

Dan Tom

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Lesson Info

8. Photographing People

Dan breaks down his approach to taking portraits. He teaches how to make people comfortable in front of the camera, how to take photos of strangers, and tips on composition.
Next Lesson: Editing

Lesson Info

Photographing People

I wanna talk a little bit about my approach to taking portraits or photographing people. I think the beauty of taking portraits in people is that it's really what you make of it. You can do some prep works. For example, if you're gonna shoot a friend or someone who's a basketball player, you might want to think about the scene that you might wanna shoot him in; him or her. It could be at the gym, it could be at maybe the court that they grew up playing a lot and practicing, or it could be something super spontaneous, like if you're out with friends and you're out, you're doing stuff. I think that's the beauty of capturing something is, it doesn't, it's kind of what you make of it and that's kind of my approach. I don't always do a lot of prep work with portraits. Sometimes it's in the moment, sometimes it's super easy to just, you know, like the moment's there and you just want to capture it. I think when I first started to take photos of people, I think it, it was kind of intimidating...

because with the landscape, it's much easier in the sense of, it's just you and the place. There's no other kind of people involved. I think talking to strangers maybe, or having a person and composing something, it's a completely different beast than shooting a landscape. And so for me, I think the challenge was always, like, getting comfortable with that, but also, yeah, kind of just experimenting. And I think a good way that I would say it is like, there's not that extra component of another human and that kind of interaction. I think it's a bit more vulnerable to shoot portraits, because you are kind of having to direct, you are having that relationship with the subject more so, than you are with the landscape. I kind of equate it to like, playing golf, 'cause it's just you and the course, versus you playing basketball or like, a team sport. There's other people involved, there's other things to consider, there's emotions, there's just a lot of different things going on versus just the landscape. So last night at 10, my buddy Tyler and his wife came up to meet us. And I'm just gonna show you some photos that we shot and kind of explain to you my process and my thinking behind shooting, behind how I'm choosing it and and using the available light that was there. So this first photo, I had Tyler look off kind of into the distance, and this is something you can do with your subjects. It's pretty common, but I like to have the subject look away to begin with because not everyone is comfortable just looking right into the camera, like at the first photo. So maybe just to kind of get comfortable in front of the camera, to kind of get familiar with how you wanna frame it. I think that's a good kind of rule of thumb. So in this first photo, I have him looking away. I noticed there was some light mixed in with some shadows, which created a much softer light versus like, out, in the bright sun. So I had him stand strategically placed with just a little bit of light highlighting his face. So that's the first photo here. And then, I had him turn toward me, like I said, I started with him facing off and now he's looking toward me. So I snapped a few photos and you can see the difference between these two. I like the first one better because it just feels more natural. But again, you're gonna shoot a lot of photos, you're not gonna like all of them but it's just important to try it out, see what you like, experiment, have fun. I think it's important to, to utilize your relationship with the subject if, especially if you know them. The next photo that I have is, the other thing to do, that you can do, that's probably, might make the most sense is to shoot portrait mode. And with portrait mode on your phone it creates that depth of feel. There's a bit, I think there's a bit more intimacy with portrait mode because it actually zooms in for you a little bit. It's not as wide as the native camera that if you were to take it, or take photos with just the native camera. And so portrait mode is just good. Like, sometimes I'll just do portrait mode just in addition, like, as a habit to make sure that I have a regular photo, not portrait mode, and then a portrait mode photo as well. And in this photo right here, I really love this one. This is of Tyler. I had Tyler kind of face on. He's looking down, but I'm pretty much like walking around him shooting at different angles and just experimenting and and kind of trying to direct, like maybe put your hands here, and maybe fold your hands at your side. And then also like have him turn his chin, like that all plays with the light that's available and how it hits his face. It creates different shadows. And so it's really just about experimenting, again and shooting, have fun, but really, just give it a shot. I think it's so important to just get out there, experiment, give it a shot for the first time and just see what you end up liking after. You might realize that the more you take photos, you like posing people a certain way. You might like having the light just hit half their face. There's all sorts of little things that you can pay attention to after you kind of play around and take photos from different angles. Step closer, step further away from the subject. And in this photo in particular, I step to the side. So it's more of a profile shot of Tyler, but it's kind of a, you're gonna notice that there's a lot of cool accidents that happen as well. And in this particular photo, I got Tyler's eye as he's looking into the camera at a shooting of a photo but the light is just coming through over the camera and hitting his eye in a really cool way. And I didn't expect that, I wasn't planning to shoot that, but I found that after the shot and post. So I'm gonna probably post, edit this one for you guys and see how good we can make that one. I think another important thing with shooting portraits or people is to capture them maybe, doing stuff they love to do. Like, something that they would normally do anyways. And so Tyler's a skateboarder and he brought his board up to Tam last night. So I got a few shots of him skateboarding. And this was one of my favorite shots that I got of him skateboarding. What I did with this shot is I picked a place where I loved kind of the setting or the backdrop. So I love this tree kind of overhanging the side of the road. And then, it was a safe enough place where it wasn't too steep of a decline where Tyler felt uncomfortable skating down. And I just had him do a couple times down the road and this was my favorite shot from that bunch. And then, as the light kind of continues to get a little softer. I love how soft the light hits Tyler's face in this particular photo. Cause it really highlights his clear-frame glasses and makes it kind of pop. And I just had him kind of face toward the light. There's a little bit of reflection in his glasses as well of the sunset. And these are just things that, to look out for when you're shooting people especially if they have glasses or especially if they're just with you for the entire time. I think, referencing different times of the day, paying attention to the light, the colors that they produce with the light, those are all, those will all affect like, the skin tone and influence the outcome of your photo. I think one fun thing to do with taking portraits or photos of people is to play, to really think about, maybe, the emotion that you wanna try to capture as well. For me, I like photos where they're not smiling and I know that not everyone's like that. So I think Tyler did a great job yesterday of kind of having a more kind of, serious reflective kind of mood and expression. I know if you wanna try to get someone to smile, you know, there's, you can tell a joke, you can try to get them to laugh in a certain way, but I think it's super important to try to capture that emotion that you're really trying to draw out of the person. And there's different ways to try to do that depending on your relationship, how well you know them, you know, you probably know them best. So if it's a joke, if it's, you know, anything anything to loosen them up or to make them feel natural, but just be ready to take that photo when they do show that emotion. One other tip that actually, I got from my other friend who's a photographer with taking portraits is: To get maybe that split second of emotion and authenticity is to have them look, have your subject look down or away, not facing the camera and then maybe count to three and on three, have them look at you. And that split second, just be ready to shoot. I found that to be pretty successful with taking portraits. And I encourage you guys to try that out too. I wanna talk about taking portraits. The difference between taking portraits of someone you know, like a friend or a family member versus a stranger. And in my experience, having been able to travel to a lot of different countries, that's always something that I was really intimidated by when I began, but the more and more I did it, the more it, it got easier. And so one thing I want to say is that when you know someone obviously, there's a familiarity with the person. They know you, you know them. And I think it's a bit more natural and probably more organic to take their photos. But I think with the stranger, especially in a different country of someone who doesn't speak the same language as you, I've learned that, to always be respectful. So I'll always check with the person before I take their photo. I don't want to try to sneak in a portrait shot without them knowing, and then just kind of walking away. I think there's a relationship there that you have to respect because you're kind of in their space if you're taking their photo and you want them to know and be okay with you taking their photo before you take the photo. So I always check. And if I don't speak the language, I'll kind of point to my camera or my phone and be like, is this okay to take your photo? Or just kind of nudge or to kind of gesture. And they usually can understand that you wanna take their photo. So they'll either nod yes or they might be, you know, okay. Or they might be no. But I think it's worth a shot because some of my favorite portraits that I've taken have come from those experiences. In addition to kind of, approaching a stranger or if you're traveling, approaching somebody you don't know and taking their portrait, something that is I think really important is to try to involve them in the process. So what I've come to learn that really kind of almost forges a relationship, even if you don't speak the same language, is to show them the photo that you took of them after. So show them the, use your phone, hold up your phone. And then they'll usually really love it. And sometimes they've even given me their numbers to like text it to them or email it to them. And I think that creates, just like, a bond between two people who don't speak the same language. It adds to your experience as a traveler. And it also adds probably to their experience. And just in terms of like, they know someone who's not from their country. I think it's a beautiful thing, when two people can connect through photography without having or speaking the same language. So I hope you guys enjoyed some of my tips about shooting portraits and people. I hope you realize that, as I've come to realize for myself, that people are just as important as places in telling a story. So I have an assignment for you guys. I'd love for you guys to think of a person. It could be someone that serves you coffee. It could be a friend, could be a family member. I would love for you guys to take a portrait of them and use some of the tips that I gave you remember to use different angles, shoot them in different light, have them move around make, direct them as needed, and see if you like the results.

Ratings and Reviews

Lindsay Remigio

Great Workshop - Not just for iPhones This workshop was concise but packed a lot of great information. The things taught can not only help you take better photos with your iPhone but can also be applied to any format of photography. I particularly enjoyed the section where Dan edits viewers photos. I feel inspired to get out and try what I learned.

Déborah Mocquant

I like the way Dan Tom sees the world and how he is inspired. This is more than a workshop for me. I felt like I was in an other world. This workshop also gave me a lot interesting informations about photography. To be honest, I watched this workshop 4 times already.

Emily Guldborg

He has a definite passion for what he does and encouraging people to share their stories through photography. Not a huge time commitment and he refreshed my interest in sharing my perception of the world.

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