Thursday, April 07, 2005

Photographing People & Animals

By Rae A. Costa

Outdoor photography encompasses a wide range of subjects. People and animals are just a couple of the choices we have when looking for subject matters. Our options are limitless if we keep an open mind and an open eye to our surroundings.

You don't have to travel to exotic locations to find interesting things to shoot. Your own city, neighborhood, and even backyard can yield a wide variety of subjects. With a little creativity, everyday subjects can be turned into great photo opportunities.


Most people buy a camera to take pictures of their family and friends. When taking pictures of people you should remember three things: camera position, lighting, and the pose of your subject(s).

People look the most natural when the shot is taken from around four to five feet away. If you move closer, the subject's features can become extended and look disproportionate. Further away and the subject appears flat. If you want a headshot, remain about four feet from your subject and use a zoom lens to tighten the shot.

Be sure the camera is at eye level with your subject. A common mistake when shooting pictures of children is the camera level is too high, causing the child to look small. Shooting from the subject's eye level is preferred, but you can be creative to enhance your subject. For example, if your subject has a weak chin, shoot from just below eye level to give a better perspective. Always focus on your subject's eyes.

Avoid harsh lighting, such as shooting with a flash or when the sun is directly overhead. This produces stark photos with dark shadows, causing your subject to appear unattractive. A bright flash can give your subject an unnatural skin tone. If you have to shoot during the noontime hour, have your subject turn away from the sun. Try to avoid using a flash if possible. If indoors, try to use natural lighting such as sunlight coming through a window.

Having your subject pose is entirely up to you. Some people prefer to take random shots of their subjects. This, however, can cause your pictures to have no sense of composure and look like amateur snapshots. This is quite common in spur of the moment pictures of people at parties, weddings, or other large gatherings. Photographing more than one person can be difficult. It requires patience and good communication skills to get those in your photo to cooperate.

Others, however, desire a more composed shot and will take the time to have their subjects pose. In group shots it's important to ensure everyone looks their best and no one is being blocked by someone else's head. Make sure their pose is natural and arrange the group in an attractive manner. Don't line them up in rows just so they'll all fit within the viewfinder.

Your pictures should have impact and not be merely a snapshot of people standing uncomfortably in front of the camera. Your pictures should tell a story.

Pets & Animals

Many pet owners consider their animals to be part of the family, so pets are another favorite subject matter. Photographing pets is similar to photographing people, so many of the how-to tips used in people photography can be applied to pet photography.

The biggest difference, however, is pets for the most part don't listen when given directions. So patience is strongly recommended when photographing animals. If the pet isn't yours, try to have its owner nearby to help keep the animal calm and cooperative.

The zoo is a popular location for photographing animals. Zoos offer a variety of animals in a small and controlled environment. There's nothing wrong with photographing animals in captivity as long as you don't try to pass off your shots as 'wildlife' photography. It's best to take your zoo shots during non-peak hours, which is usually when the zoo first opens and the crowds have yet to gather. Animals are most active during early morning and in late afternoon.

Find a spot that gives you a good and unobstructed view of the animal you want to photograph. Pay attention to the background, angle of the shot, and lighting when composing your photo. Be prepared to wait. Don't tap on the exhibit's glass, whistle, shout, or make abrupt movements to get the animal's attention. This not only stresses the animal, but disturbs those around you as well.

A common problem in most pictures is a distracting background. A simple solution is to see your scene in its totality and not get too focused on just the main subject. This goes for both people and animal photography. People can be repositioned to block out distractions. Since it's difficult to reposition an animal, you will have to pay particular attention to setting up the shot.

To avoid unwanted people, fences, or other distractions try using a zoom lens to crop out unwelcome elements. Try changing your angle and framing your shot differently until you find what looks best. When arriving at the animal's enclosure, compose several different shots. This will help when an unwanted distraction wanders into your picture. You won't waste time trying to decide where to move and you'll be able to get the next shot before the animal turns away.

Be patient. Have fun. And take lots and lots of pictures.

No comments: