Readers Photo Challenge assignment: People

Most people are uncomfortable taking pictures of other people. A landscape won’t talk back to you, a flower isn’t judgmental of your technique and a bird can’t criticize you. For the latest Readers Photo Challenge I’ll be asking most of you to venture outside of your comfort zone with the assignment of “people.”

Posed or candid photos are both acceptable for this challenge.

There are some basic principals you can follow to improve your people photography.

For posed portraits, first of all be ready. No one wants to wait around for you to get your equipment, lighting and/or settings right. Take a few test shots of the scene before your subjects arrive then review the images on your camera’s monitor to confirm the exposure. It’ll be one less thing to worry about when taking your photos.

Next is to watch your backgrounds. The last thing you want a cluttered and distracting backdrop. You want the view of the photo to be drawn toward your subject and not diverted by the background. Keep it as simple as possible.

Get in close. Quite often, when taking an informal picture, the photographer will take a step back and so will his subject. What you need to do is just the opposite. Fill the frame with your subject. You don’t want them to be a dot on the horizon. You want to be able to see his/her face and expression. Getting in close will also help with in eliminating a distracting background.

Focus on the eyes. That’s the first place the view looks in a portrait. It’s a simple thing but if the focus is even slightly off it can ruin a photo.

Get them to relax. When your subject is at ease they’re more likely to smile and their body language more natural. Telling a joke, giving them an unexpected compliment or engaging them in conversation can help.

All these tips can also apply to unposed photos as well but there are few other considerations for candid pictures.
 Give your subject something to do. Capture them at work or play or engaged in something other than the camera, to give your photos of people a more spontaneous feeling.

Lastly, extra consideration will be given to photos of strangers

My son is taking a photo class at U.C. Santa Cruz and his T.A. told him that he needs to get out of his “comfort zone.” For him, that meant taking pictures of people. One recent weekend I went to Santa Cruz to help him out. We walked the streets of the downtown area looking for likely subjects. I told my son to introduce yourself, tell them what you’re doing and ask to take their pictures. I broke the ice with the first few people, then it was all up to him. He was timid at first but soon got the hang of it.

When approaching strangers for a photo be polite and honest. Tell them why you want to take a picture of them (they’re standing in a picturesque spot/great light/ or have a great face or interesting clothes, etc). I find that when treated with respect, most people respond in kind. The very worst the can do is say no.From past challenges, assignments that involve people receive the fewest entries. It’s probably because they’re outside of most people’s comfort zones. But with a little practice and determination you can become a people person.

How to Enter:

1. Email your entries to Type in “People” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between June 1 and June 22.

3. Entries are limited to no more than 12 photos from each photographer.

4. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (e.g.: “John Doe of Stockton. Location: Stockton. Camera: Canon Rebel T3 w/ 55-300mm lens”).

5. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos, and if they’re related to you. (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 8, of Stockton plays in the grass at Victory Park in Stockton).

6. Please feel free to include any interesting anecdotes or stories on how you took the picture.

7. The deadline for submission is Thursday, June 22. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on June 29 at

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