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Portrait Tips: 3 Ways To Not Shoot Butts

When you take a street photography class with me, I’ll probably tell you my one rule: No Butts. If you’re photographing butts it means that you’ve either missed the moment or you’re too chicken to photograph people to their face–which can be really intimidating.

But even if you’re simply making pictures at a family gathering, you should practice waiting for the right moment to make a picture when the action is happening and you can see it on folks’ faces. Here are a couple of tips to capture the right moment from the right angle and not end up featuring pictures of butts on your Facebook page.

1. Stand In Front Of Your Subject

You’re supposed to be a “fly on the wall” when making candid pictures and you should try not to make a scene, but if you’re too timid you will not make the pictures that matter. Again, practice at family events. You’ve got the camera and it’s known that you’re a photographer, so step up to the front. The group will appreciate the pictures you share and they’ll appreciate that they are from the good angle. Use your judgment, but don’t expect to get great shots of the birthday girl blowing out candles when you’re standing behind her.

When I saw this bride start throwing candy, I took two steps to the right so I could clearly see her.

2. Change Your Subject

But sometimes you just can’t get in front without ruining the experience for others. In these cases, change who your subject is. Instead of photographing the girl blowing out the candles, photograph the other kids’ reactions, or grandma’s. In this wedding in a small town in rural China, if I stood my 1.8-meter-tall-self in the front, then no one behind me could see. I stood at the back, which meant I didn’t always get the best angle of the action. I wasn’t the primary photographer of the event, so it wasn’t my job to document the wonderfully complex ceremony, but I got terrific angles on the reactions at my sides, and even on the roof top above me. Of course, a moderate telephoto lens is helpful in these circumstances–I used the Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron for all of these photos.

3. Buck Up And Shoot

The last tip for getting terrific pictures face-on is to simply ask people if you can do it. I have great success at this, and I know you can too. Approach people with a reason and they’ll rarely turn you down. For these portraits I mentioned to the parents that I thought those kids are adorable–may I make a picture?

With this guy, I simply said, “Are you from this village? It seems like a great place. May I make a picture of you to help me remember it?”

Conclusion

If you want to make pictures worth sharing I suggest that you stop making pictures from the wrong side of your subjects, and if you just can’t get around to the front, find something else to make a picture of, especially other people’s reactions to the action. Lastly, you just need to find a little more courage and say something nice and then ask to make a picture. Whatever you do, share more pictures with fewer butts and you’ll find your work improving faster than you could imagine.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.

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