Human nature naturally draws attention to others around us, and eye contact forms the very basis of communication. Whilst my passion is landscape and wildlife photography, shooting mostly on my canon 7d, there is some magical about photographing people and creating an image that captures a human emotion, a thought, and a bigger unknown story.

It’s also very important to be careful when photographing people whilst travelling. Some may feel uncomfortable about having their picture taken, and there is always a moral dilemma as to photographing people without their consent – though law pretty globally allows you to take pictures in public places – where there are of course, the public. However, direct eye contact with the camera normally means they know you’re taking a picture and, if they feel strongly enough about it they would probably tell you.

Here are a few of my top photographs of people taken during my travels.

#1: Swaziland 7-a-side

Taken around 5 miles outside of Mbabane in Swaziland I pulled over as I saw a group of kids kicking a football. My guide introduced me and the children saw me camera - and asked me to take their picture!

Taken around five miles outside of Mbabane in Swaziland I pulled over as I saw a group of kids kicking a football around in the dirt. My guide introduced me and the children saw my camera and asked me to take their picture! With no real understanding of how my Canon 7d worked, they didn’t really apprecaite the concept of posing for a picture. In the end, I managed to get a great picture completely unrehearsed or staged.

#2: New York  lunch in the park


Whilst this image doesn’t rely on eye contact, photographing people in this image has helped get a better sense of movement and pace. This image was simply created by having a longer shutter speed, and looking like a bit of an idiot on the floor for a few seconds. I’ve only just noticed it, but I quite like the lady on the left with two different shoes on.

#3: Set to fish – Sri Lanka


Taking a stroll along the beach in Sri Lanka’s Unawatuna we headed out of the main touristy strip and into the fishing area. Un-mangling an old net these chaps were preparing to get their next haul. It’s not the most pretty picture but a great snap of local life and I like the movement in.

#4: The daily grind – India, Delhi

photographing people in india

Whilst I took lots of great images of the Taj for example in India, having boarded the wrong train and jumping off before getting too lost, we set to find a local pub and played cards whilst waiting for the next one. I popped out onto one of Delhi’s busiest trading streets wanting to capture images of daily life. Here you have an example of someone who knew they were having their picture taken. Whilst not the best-framed image this picture captures a story and raises a question. Does this banana seller do this every day, how far does he wheel his truck, how my bananas does he sell?

Top Tips for Photographing People

Basic Rule of Thirds and eyelines

Any basic book or class on photography will teach you about the rule of thirds. Divide your image into three equal portions both vertically and horizontally and point the focus of your image, when photographing people their eyes, on one of the cross sections where your invisible lines meet. The truth is people’s eyes work in more of a curved and complex way than this. In general the majority of people read an image from left to right, how they would read a book. Bear this in mind too.

Take the Swaziland image as an example. The children here lined themselves up on their own – but amazingly the image grows from the left to the right slowly sloping up (due to their heights), taking you to the eye level of the boy in the brown t-shirt. Continuing the story you then see the lad crouched on the floor – almost as an after element of the image, which makes you smile.

The other focus

Whilst photographing people your focus is, of course, the person, but bear in mind what the surroundings say as well. They need to tell a story and give context to the person you are photographing. Try to get enough of that background story into the frame, giving context to the emotion and message your face / eyes / people are telling.

Focus on the eyes

If manually focusing or controlling the point of focus with a pinpoint through your viewfinder ensure it is the eyes in focus. Getting the end of the nose (depending on how big the nose is) in focus could mean your eyes, that story element is blurred.

Be unobtrusive

Have respect for your subjects and don’t force a picture. Whilst walking around I always have a 55-105mm lens on. This means whilst not a super long lens as such, I can get some good close up face images without invading personal space or making it too obvious.

Engage your subject – or don’t

Think about the interaction you want your subject to have with the lens. Do you want them to be engaged with the camera, or is it better that they’re not. If you do want your subject to be engaged then make sure they are – fully!

There are a few duplicated points here but for even more tips on photographing people head over to Nat Geo’s website where they’ve got some really good points covered.

I shoot on a Canon 7d as my main Camera. It has a higher shutter speed that the also popular 7D and is lighter, and great for travelling.

Canon 7d body

Check out the Canon 7D on Amazon here >

When it comes to lenses invest – you’re better off getting a cheaper body and more expensive glass. The L range series is a good starting point for getting your first, best lens to use 70% of the time. If you’re only buying one lens try and get one with a good size zoom (24mm – 105mm is great) as it will give you a bit more scope.

Canon L range lenses on Amazon >