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8 Ways to Include People in Your Photos

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One thing I hear all the time when we start a photography workshop is "I want to learn how to add people in my photos". It is not unusual to be uncomfortable taking photos of total strangers, whether it is a simple case of shyness or not knowing how to approach someone you want to photograph because of language barrier.

The other thing is that with privacy laws coming up everywhere, it is also becoming more challenging to photograph people or street scenes without getting into trouble. With some patience and practice, you can include people in your photos, keep them anonymous and yet not loose the impact they bring to the image. 

The first point to recognize is that people are part of the image composition; it is a balacing act between the scene (or the background) and the human element in that scene - they support each other making a whole. It is not about the facial expression or features of the person (this would be a portrait), but about the dynamic tension they create in the photo.

Photography is about light and waiting for the moment. When you discover a spot for an image, first observe how people move in the scene, visualize what you are looking for. Frame the place, check the camera settings, take a couple of test shots to make sure everything in where it should be and then... wait. Wait for the moment to happen, for someone to come along.   

Careful composition and waiting for the right person to walk in the image is key, requires time, patience and a dab of luck! Here are some 8 ideas to get you started.

1. Find the right distance and add scale

Without anyone in an image, it can be difficult to appreaciate the size of a place. Here, the horse and rider bring life and scale to the Moroccan dwellings in the background, yet the distance between them and the camera makes it possible to gain the necessary balance in the photo, without making the rider the main subject.

2. Capture back light and silhouettes

When facing the sun with the camera, you not only have great backlight, but you also create great people silhouettes and keep the passersby anonymous, such as the one in the Italian street above. 

3. Don’t include the face

Against the dark cement blocks of the Jewish memorial in Berlin, someone walking by was a welcome addition and the human element becomes more powerful than capturing a face.

4. Use reflections

By capturing reflections, you not only include a passersby in your image, but you also create an intriguing image. This has the added advantage of everyone ignoring you and your camera as you point down at the ground rather than directly at people. 

5. Use umbrellas to your advantage

On a rainy day, umbrellas pop out and faces disappear. Another perfect ocasion to capture life in the streets keeping people anonymous.

6. Focus on the activity 

Here, the ball in mid air, the young girl’s movement and the accompanying  shadow are far more important than catching her face. 

7. Work with creative blur

By intentionally blurring the image, faces disappear. Here, zooming in while releasing the shutter created intentional blur which makes the passerby unrecognizable. 

8. Look for shadows

Shadows make a mirror effect which can bring interest. Here the shadow of the couple holding hands is actually stronger than the couple itself.

With some practice, you will soon see many occasions to create images that include people without being in their face or breaking privacy laws. Don’t be shy and share with us your own photos using creative ways to include people.

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About the Author

Sophie Pasquet

Sophie Pasquet

Sophie has been a photographer, educator and traveller for most of her adult life. She founded Better Paris Photos in 2008 (which became Better Travel Photos in 2014) to deliver exceptional photography experiences to travellers.