How To Photograph People In Their Environment?
Photographing people in their environment is something we do quite often. Especially so these days when everyone has a phone camera.
We want to capture people and the atmosphere of a place to tell a story. The thing is how do we capture it right? Everyone has their own style. I am sharing several examples of the way I do it.
I photograph people in their environment to show the uniqueness of a place that creates its people, its culture and the way of life.
- When photographing crowd or group, make sure they are in well proportion.
- A wide angle lens with narrow aperture setting is preferred to give a good depth of field.
- A narrow depth of field means high aperture or f-number to ensure that the foreground and background are in focus.
I photograph with Fujifilm most of the time. I often use either one of these cameras, Fujifilm X-E2 with an 18-55mm f/2.8 - f/4 or a Fujifilm X100F with a fixed lens of 24 mm when photographing people. These cameras are small and less intrusive.
As much as possible, I like to walk into the scene or the environment to photograph people or individual going about with their activities or tasks.
- Be aware of the direction of lights. You don't want a strong casting of shadows or see people squinting their eyes from bright lights.
- Look out for good backgrounds.
- Capture expressions
In some places, people are camera shy. Therefore, asking permission before photographing anyone up close is advisable. Then again this is based on your discretion and the situation that you are in at that moment.
In places like France, photographing people in the public without their consent may cause some legal issues. Therefore, always be informed of what can be photographed and what not.
- Composition is arranging all the elements to make it pleasing to the eyes. Those elements are the tones, colours, shapes and forms. First, pin point on your main subject of interest. Then you will be able to ascertain how the photograph should be shot incorporating all the elements in it.
I enjoy going to local markets. It is one of the best places to capture the everyday life of local people in their environment.
When I am wandering in a busy local market like this, I usually shoot with shutter priority to be able to capture motion and be ready for impromptu shots. The shutter speed is set to 1/125 and sometimes more.
- The higher shutter speed means adjustments have to be made to the ISO to compensate on lighting. In most cases, I keep the ISO to a custom auto set to minimum 200 and maximum 800.
- In the shutter priority mode, the camera controls the aperture. This will affect the depth of field you want to achieve. Therefore, it is important to know what settings to compensate the other and how to avoid under-exposed, over-exposed and blur.
I am always on a look out for a good candid portrait shots. Facial expression and body language are the essence to the make that perfect image.
- Look out for spontaneous and candid shots.
- When photographing people, focus on their eyes. As shown in most of my photos here, I try as much as possible to photograph them looking straight into my camera. That creates an interaction.
- A shallow depth of field is a wide open aperture with low f-number in Aperture Priority. With this setting, it makes the subject stands out while the background is out of focus. This technique is applied mostly to portraits and macro images.
In the following picture, I have included the background to show the joss stick maker's working environment. Mr Lee is from Penang, a Malaysian state up north. He is the only one that produces handmade joss sticks in Malaysia. Again, I have set the aperture to a large depth of field of f/8 to ensure that all parts of this photo (background and foreground) are in focus.
A while back, I attended the Dawn Service of the Australian armies. This was a solemn ceremony to commemorate the World War Two Australian prisoners of war at the Sandakan War Memorial Park in Sabah, North of Borneo.
This event took place at dawn. It was photographing in low light. Any lights that I can get are from the podium and walkways. I did not use any flashlight.
I set my Fujifilm X-T1 to silent mode. I was moving around all the time, shooting freehand with high ISO on wide aperture using a fast aperture lens of f/2.8. My camera was on electronic shutter to reduce movement. My body was my tripod. I stood very still and held my breath with elbow tucked in tightly whenever I am taking a shot.
The above photo was shot with a 50mm lens. The morning blue hour created a sombre mood of that moment.
My camera's aperture was set at f/4.5 at ISO 800 to capture the scene without compromising the sharpness of the image and the morning blue hour tint. I used spot metering to focus on the person who was delivering the speech. Then composed the shot.
With these settings, the background of the image was fairly sharp and the foreground slightly blur. My intention was to lead the viewer to the front stage.