Prepare your camera and your subject

The first stage in photographing people is to get the right equipment and the right setup. A decent camera, and smart prepping of your subject are all you need for pictures that evoke admiration. Here we go.

1. Prepare Your Camera.


Taking portraits is sensitive work. The magic of photographing people lies in detail and subtlety. To accomplish that, you should have equipment and accessories that are of high quality. Your digital camera should have at least 8 megapixel resolution and a quality lens.

Camera lenses offer two ways of regulating the amount of light that comes in. One way is to speed up or slow down the shutter speed. The other way is to widen or narrow the lens opening, the aperture. This is the method that is most important in photographing people, because it affects depth of field.

photographing people - depth of field

How would this look if the stairs were also in focus?

Depth of field simply means how much space behind or in front of spot you are focusing on is also in focus. When photographing people, the less, the better. You generally want the background to be blurred so as not to distract attention from the subject. A low aperture setting, measured in what we call "f-stops," (f/2.8, for example, is wider than f/16) gives you a wide lens opening and narrow depth of field.

The portrait mode on most digital cameras automatically gives you the widest aperture, and regulates the input of light through shutter speed. More advanced cameras can let you do this manually, or have a setting called "aperture priority."

Zoom lenses range from a wide angle to a telescopic view. Wide angle is not recommended for photographing people for two reasons: it lengthens the depth of field and it sometimes creates a warped effect. Too much zoom presents a problem of camera shake. Using moderate zoom is recommended because it further narrows the depth of field, and gives a flat, natural look. Nonetheless, a tripod is recommended to prevent any shaking of the camera.


  1. Position your camera at a distance that allows you to use moderate zoom. Use a tripod if possible.
  2. Set your camera to portrait mode or aperture priority.
  3. Make sure you have sufficient memory and battery power to take a lot of pictures.

2. Prepare Your Subject.


photographing people - proper wardrobe

Does her shirt help this picture?

Let's look at the technical aspects of preparing your subject. The best portraits are those that show the real person, naturally. Therefore, dressing to kill and applying makeup befitting a cabaret revue can upstage the human being you are trying to capture. Have the subject look their natural best.

Clothing should enhance the subject, not steal the show. The best choices are solid hues of a subtle color. Avoid stripes and other distracting patterns, as well as loud colors that draw the eye away from the face of the subject. Sometimes, blacks and whites cause contrast problems. In the world of color, it is known that some colors complement each other. Choose colors that go well with the subject's hair and skin tone.


  1. Have your subject groomed and made up (if needed) to give a natural appearance.
  2. Have them wear subtle, solid colors that complement their hair and skin tone.


3. Prepare Your Background.


photographing people - proper background

This girl is adorable - but that wall!!!

The difference between a standard people picture and a professional, personal one is often not the subject or camera at all. It is what you do in the background!

Not only clothing can upstage a subject, but so can dirty clothing hanging over a chair in the background of the picture. That's why most portrait photographers use a neutral background, either a solid wall or a curtain. Be careful of windows or light in the background, as you may find your subject in silhouette.

photographic backdrops

This is a great exception!

If you are using a room or an outdoor scene, make sure that there are no disturbing objects or people in it. Place your subject at a distance from the objects in the background, so that they will blur.


  1. Remove distractions from your background.
  2. Place your subject at a distance from the background so that the narrow depth of field will blur it.

Onward to Part Two: Photographic Lighting for Photographing People