Home: Macro Photography Subjects: Photographing People

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Photographing People with a Macro Camera

Photographing people, child black and white

In my view, photographing people is the most challenging, but also most rewarding style of photography. Focusing close-up on faces reveals personality in a direct and uncompromising fashion. A macro lens is an excellent choice for portrait photography.

With photographs of people, we're talking more about close-up photography than true macro photography, where the magnification is in the 1:1 range. No matter: my point is to encourage you to use your macro lens next time you're photographing people.

Before we move on, here are other the pages in this Macro Photography Subjects section:

What type of lens shall I use for photographing people?

Dedicated macro lenses are typically in the 50-120mm range. This also happens to be a good focal length range for portrait photography. Wider-angle lenses tend to distort facial features when we move in close, and longer, telephoto lenses flatten facial features in a way some find less than ideal.

You may find a lens in this range with macro capability. Give it a try, and take advantage of the close-up range to come in close.

Ten Portrait Photography Tips, plus one secret!

  1. Camera settings: Set your camera's ISO to 400. In my experience this is the best trade-off between speed and clarity. Work with a large aperture and fast shutter speed. This ensures a low depth of field to create an un-distracting, blurred-out background. Just be aware the field of exact focus is lower, which demands exact focusing. Speaking of which...

  2. Focus on the eyes. Nothing ruins photographs of people like blurry eyes.

  3. Know your gear. A good portrait photography session is about flow. Keep the momentum going by understanding your camera controls and settings.

  4. Learn the language of light. Understand how lighting direction and the size of your light source affects your photographs. Study the photography lighting section for more detail.

  5. Shoot a lot. Keep your shutter humming! In the days of film photography, this strategy had financial consequences, but in digital photography, there are virtually no limits. Carry extra flash memory cards and you're golden. The only drawback is more time editing photos, but that's a small price to pay.

  6. For studio portrait photography, you will need four basic pieces of equipment (plus some accessories): a camera with lens, a soft light source, a neutral background, and a single reflector. Place the light source at a 45 degree angle to the camera, slightly higher than the subject's face. There, I just explained the basics. The rest is up to you!

  7. Take advantage of the macro lens by coming in close, with the face filling the frame. Work your way in slowly to close-up range. Most people have a strong sense of personal space and won't relax if you start too close for their comfort. I usually start from a distance, full-body, and work my way in closer as I go.

  8. When photographing people outdoors, look for soft light and neutral, uncluttered backgrounds. Around buildings, you'll find both of these qualities in doorways, next to windows, and under eaves. Explain to your subject what you're looking for, and enlist their help.

  9. Give people props to help them relax and feel at ease. This works especially well when photographing children.

  10. Avoid direct sunlight in your subject's eyes. The brightness makes them squint, and is not pleasant, nor does it make good photos. If that's the light you have to work with, turn them around and use the direct sun as a back-light, using a reflector card (or fill flash) to add fill light. 

Finally, here's a "secret" portrait photography tip for when you have a nervous subject. I call it "The Colombo Trick", after the TV detective who always asked the suspect just one more pivotal question after telling them "thank-you, we're done".

Tell your subject that you're finished, and they've been great....then, "oh, just one more! This is good!" Nervous people always relax after being told they're finished, and I've gotten some of the best portraits that way. They will forgive your little fib once they see the results.

Using macro photography strategies when photographing people can pay off richly. Here are some examples:

Photographing people, beard man
Photographing people, kid with shades
Photographing people, kid with flower
Photographing people, lady close-up

What's your approach to Photographing People?

Have You Used a Macro lens For Photographing People?

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