Taking Better Photos of People: Easy Tips for Dramatic Shots in Film or Digital Photography

Taking Better Photos of People: Easy Tips for Dramatic Shots in Film or Digital Photography

For some kinds of photography, you need equipment like macro lenses, lights, and tripods. However, you can take better pictures right away regardless of the kind of gear you have if you follow the suggestions below. Spend some time learning how to take better pictures before you splurge on an expensive camera.

Ready, Set, Shoot!

  • Take photos of everyday activities. This is the stuff of your life. Photograph family activities and rituals, best friends, special toys, favorite books, doing homework, and so on. Birthdays happen once a year. You live your life everyday!
  • Take lots of photos. The more photos you take, the better your chances of getting a terrific shot. This is especially easy with digital cameras. You can snap like crazy, and then simply delete the files that you don’t like. If you still use film and you don’t want to spend money on developing many photos, get an index print or contact sheet made, then choose the best shots from that.


  • Zoom in on your subject. If you’re too far away, your photos are more likely to be visually cluttered and lack focus. Zooming in on your subject gives your photos impact.
  • Take time to compose your shot. If you have time, slow down, look through the viewfinder and compose your picture. Is there a tree sticking out of someone’s head? Will the photo be better if you step to the right or move forward?
  • Shoot from various angles. Take photos from different levels, distances, and perspectives, rather than having everything the same. Photos of people taken from the side or behind generate different emotional responses in the viewer than if the subjects are smiling at the camera.


  • Use the sun to your advantage. Early in the morning or just before sunset the light is warm and flattering to skin tones. Shooting during the middle of the day washes out colors and causes harsh shadows, unless the sky is slightly overcast.
  • Turn off your flash indoors. When photographing indoors, turn off your flash, place your subject near a window or open door, and stand at right angles to the incoming light or with the light behind you. You won’t get the dark halo and washed-out skin tones that come from using a flash. If using 400 ASA film, you'll have enough light to photograph an unmoving subject.
  • Turn on your flash outdoors. If your subject is in the shade but the background is bright, your camera will meter on the brightness behind and your subject will turn out dark. To avoid this, use the fill-flash or force-flash option on your camera to make sure that the subject is properly lit. Use the same approach if your subject is facing away from the sun.


  • Print your photos in black and white. Try converting digital photos to black and white, or shoot using black and white film. Your photos will have a timeless look. Be forewarned that although true black and white photos last longer than color photos, few 1-hour labs can do this kind of processing (your files or film will have to be sent out to a special lab).
  • Be choosy. If your photos don’t look great, it might not be your fault. If colors are off, ask your developer to print them again and adjust the colors, for example, with less blue. You can also try having the negative printed by another developer to compare. If there are white spots on your photos, your photo-finisher doesn’t clean their machine often enough. Don’t be embarrassed to demand excellent quality.


  • Father and Son: Subjects looking in the distance rather than at the camera gives introspective feel to the photo. Overcast sky prevents harsh daylight shadows.
  • Waking Up: Photographed using morning light coming in through the window. Subjects' faces fill the photo. Digital image converted to black and white.
  • Up a Tree: Late afternoon light makes skin glow. Photographing subject from below gives intriguing perspective.
Backlit Photos: Using fill-in flash (bottom photo) compensates for camera metering on bright background.