Photographers should be people watchers
Photo by Casey Fatchett – fatchett.com
Originally posted on The Photo Life.
Originally, a lot of people thought it only applied to event photography, but I think it also applies to portraiture as well. As a portrait photographer, you also need to learn how to read your subjects.


I once had a client ask, “How do you get those amazing shots of emotional moments at weddings? How do you know when they’re going to happen? What’s the secret?”

Do you want to know “the secret?” Come closer…a little closer…it’s called observation.

That seems pretty obvious; a photographer translates what they observe through their camera to produce an image. But are you actively observing, or are you just clicking the shutter? The problem for many photographers is that they aren’t actually ‘seeing’ what is going on.

The Art of People Watching

“People Watching” is a time honored tradition where you sit and just watch the people passing by. It can be extremely entertaining, but it’s also informative. The next time you are out ‘people watching’ take time to see how people interact with one another. Watch how couples behave together.

If you do an engagement photo session with your wedding clients, be sure to pay attention to how they interact – how they talk to each other, hold hands, walk together, etc. Do they stand still next to each another, or do they make bold movements? Taking note of these things will prepare you for the wedding day. You’ll see their behavior coming before it happens.

“Slow Down, You Move Too Fast”

Yes, I borrowed that line from the song “Feeling Groovy” by Simon & Garfunkel. I see too many photographers rushing from one shot to the next – so fast that they aren’t aware of what’s happening around them. There will be moments when the action is fast and furious, and you won’t have time to look around and take in the scene. However, most of the time things are moving at a reasonable pace. So, don’t get so caught up looking through the viewfinder that you fail to see ‘the big picture.’ There are moments happening everywhere around you. You just have to slow down enough to actually see them.

© Casey Fatchett – fatchett.com

Be a Sharp Shooter, Not a Machine Gunner

It may be a violent metaphor, but it’s accurate in this case. Hey, we’re photographers – we shoot things! Instead of just holding down the shutter button and blindly hoping you get the picture, wait for your moment!

Why? First, when you are going through the photographs afterward, you’ll have a lot less photos to deal with. But more importantly, you probably think of the shot that you’re looking for, and you’ll be aware of it just before it happens.

The example I often use is when a couple is dancing together and you can’t quite see their faces yet. I want that photo of both their faces – looking at each other – clearly showing the emotion inherent in the moment. Having practiced observing people, I can tell pretty quickly how they’ll move when they dance. Are they going to stay in one spot and not move much? Or, are they going to ‘come to me’ so that I can get the picture? I make my decision, and wait for the moment to happen. How long does it take? A few seconds, maybe. In that time, I could have just held down the shutter and taken ten pictures and maybe ended up with one usable picture. Instead, I made sure to get THE PICTURE that I wanted from the beginning.

Photo by Casey Fatchett – fatchett.com

There are exceptions to every rule, though. During especially important moments (the first kiss, portraits, etc.) I usually take a three-shot ‘burst’ to make sure I ‘got’ the picture (ensuring that there are no weird faces being made, blinks, flashes from guests’ cameras going off, etc) before moving on to my next composition. I am NOT taking fifteen shots of the same thing. Your clients don’t want fifteen shots that are essentially the same. You shouldn’t either.

Don’t let your powers of observation go to waste. Use them for the good of your clients and your business!

Are you a professional observer? Do you think being a keen observer helps you do your job?



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