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5 Tips for Shooting People with Your Digital SLR

When you use your dSLR to take photos of people, you normally want a very shallow depth of field (area of focus). This separates subjects from the blurred background and looks really nice. To achieve this effect, open your lens to its maximum aperture and either zoom in or step closer.

When people are moving, make sure to dial in a fast enough shutter speed so they don’t blur. Because of this, photographers often take portraits in Shutter priority mode. ISO often has to rise to pick up the exposure slack. Don’t be afraid of a higher ISO. It’s better to have a noisy photo that you can work with than nothing at all. If necessary, get additional lighting.

1

Capture a performer in action.

When you’re photographing people in action, especially indoors, you often have to make dramatic exposure decisions.

The lighting was gorgeous, but not overly strong. The ISO was raised on the 5D Mark III to a staggering 12800 to capture this at 1/250 second. It works. The camera performed flawlessly and a bit of noise reduction in software cleaned things up.

The bokeh is exactly what you want in a portrait: soft enough that the subject is distinctly separate from it. The quality of the lens you use will directly affect the appearance of the bokeh (in this case, an EF 70–200mm f/4L IS USM). In addition, the wide aperture creates a shallow depth of field.

Settings: f/4, 1/250 second, ISO 12800, 135mm focal length, full-frame.

2

Use creative lens effects.

This shot used a tilt-shift lens. It was a completely spontaneous moment. Normally, this might have looked nice, but the camera was equipped with a very unique type of lens. The camera was tilted at an odd angle, which throws most of the photo out of focus. The central region is good, however, which makes it work in this case.

Normally, people use tilt-shift lenses for landscapes, not people. The moral of the story? Use what you have in any and every situation. You never know what you’ll come up with.

Settings: f/2.8, 1/50 second, ISO 400, 80mm focal length, APS-C.

3

Get on the same level.

When photographing things close to the ground, it often pays to get down on the same level as your subjects. This creates interesting perspectives and photos that stand out from the rest.

Rather than stand there and take a normal shot, this photo shows the animal from the side. This rendered a completely different view of its face and expression this way. You see the teeth, the menacing eye, and the armored ridges on its back in a different light. It totally paid off.

If you have a camera with an articulated LCD monitor, you can use it to get on the ground. Hold the camera down and tilt the monitor upwards so that you can see it.

This shot made use of a 300mm telephoto lens. The ISO was increased and the aperture maxed out so the camera could be set to a fast shutter speed with which to capture even a slow-moving animal sharply.

Settings: f/4, 1/1000 second, ISO 1250, 300mm focal length, APS-C.

4

Capture nonchalance.

Not every portrait has to be traditional. Not every photo has to show a person’s face. This shot shows the two subjects waiting in between shots. The camera was equipped with a Holga dSLR lens at the time, which explains the vignetting and softness.

Settings: f/8 (listed; actual is less), 1/25 second, ISO 400, 60mm focal length, APS-C.

5

Choose the right moment.

You never really know what you’re going to capture. The following shot was taken without any planning.

The team had finished a race and was returning to the paddock. The driver is covered with sand and leaning to one side. This shot is totally about him. The other elements provide context (his horse, of course, and the horse in the background) and balance the fact that he is very far to the right of the frame.

Settings: f/4, 1/1000 second, ISO 360, 300mm focal length, APS-C.

 
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