While most of our images are of nature, people can be an enhancement to nature photographs. They provide a sense of scale and perspective. They draw USA, the audience, into the photograph. We tend to see the image from their point of view and not necessarily from our perspective outside the photograph.
Putting people in your picture can be done in two ways. Either make them the subject of your photograph or make them a detail. To make them the subject, follow the basic compositional rules of putting them in the rule of thirds, or you can fill the frame with them.
- Keep ’em straight
- Make sure the ground they are standing on is straight. It’s easy to get excited and in a hurry when taking the picture, and when you get home you get a good laugh explaining that this is a picture of Aunt Martha sliding off the planet. Watch out for horizon lines and keep things straight.
- Different angles
- Just because everyone else takes pictures of the family standing in front of the famous statue doesn’t mean you have to. Look around for ways to capture your subjects from different perspectives. Get low and aim up, or get high and aim down. Get them looking at the statue and not looking at the camera. Maybe the statue isn’t as important as the looks on their faces as they are seeing it for the first time. Find new ways and angles to include them in the photograph.
- Making Eyes
- Make sure you can see their eyes. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul – make sure it looks like someone is home. Watch shadows under the eyes or on the face – they can become a distraction and can make people look tired.
Who is that, Alice?A distracting person in your image can pull the eye totally away from the subject of the photograph. Make sure the image is enhanced by the presence of the person.
- Do something
- Get them doing something interesting. A picture of Fred standing in front of a museum is just Fred standing in front of a museum. What if Fred were eating an ice cream cone. Then you’d have a picture of Fred eating an ice cream cone in front of a museum and the story would change. You’d start to think about how ice cream cones are probably forbidden inside and he’s probably gulping it down, or that maybe he just got out of the hot sun for a moment to stand in the shade of the building to eat his ice cream cone. There are more important elements to the story now.
By making them a detail you add dimension and scale to your image. A small person in a large canyon provides the audience with a sense of the height of the walls. A dot person in a wide reaching landscape makes us feel small in this vast world around us. If the person is a detail in the image, choose to make them an obvious detail. By having the person wear a red coat or something bright, or be positioned in a way that our eye notices them, the viewer looks at the person and then moves to examine the rest of the image. If their eye stumbles upon the person as their eye wanders through the image, the rest of the time may be spent wondering what that person is doing out there, ignoring the rest of the image. Keep a balance and let the person be a part of the image and the audience can share in their discovery.
Photographs with people in them offer a great opportunity for sales. Unfortunately, today the industry requires model releases from anyone appearing in a photograph, or personal property in a photograph, such as a barn or house, or even someone’s dog. It allows you to use their image for income and in any way you would like without compensating them. It used to be that as long as the person was unrecognizable, you could publish the image. The human form has now been recognized as unique and distinctive for each human alive, requiring permission of the person in the image before publishing. Images for editorial use in magazines and newspapers are the only place where photographers are permitted to publish un-released photographs. If you intend to sell your images, get a model release to protect yourself.