Photographing Scenes with People

Romantic Couple Walking Toward Water Fountains at Department of Water and Power with Downtown Skyrises and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Background, Los Angeles, California

Romantic Couple Walking Toward Water Fountains at Department of Water and Power with Downtown Skyrises and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Background, Los Angeles, California

The trick to photographing scenes with people in there is to shoot it like you mean it. That’s the main difference between a successful photo with people in there compared to a photo where “those damn people walked into my frame”. People within a scene can add another dimension to the image by perhaps telling a visual story that wouldn’t be there otherwise, or perhaps add a sense of scale to the scene therefore making the photo more impactful as a result. Photography is really the art of simplification. It’s about making order out of a chaotic world. The hardest thing about photographing live scenes with people in there is that you have no control over their actions and it’s hard to predict the end results of the photo.

What I like about incorporating people within my photography is that it’s a hybrid style of shooting that combines the methodical compositional techniques of traditional landscape photography with “the decisive moment” spontaneity of street photography. If the timing and anticipation is off, then you would have been better off not including people in the scene, and if the composition isn’t quite there then it’s just a bad scenic photo. In the rare moments when both come to together then you have a rare photo.

In the case of this photo of downtown Los Angeles, the couple within the photo had walked past me and I knew they were headed down the path to the water fountains so I got my basic composition in order and waited until they walked into the frame while hoping the woman would keep her arm around her man until I got a few frames off at least. I got one frame of this, and the other frame right after was of them arm-in-arm. With anticipation, timing, and a bit of luck I got my photo.

My entire thought process was centered around the actions of the couple within this scene. Yet they are the smallest element within the frame surrounded by tall skyscrapers, a beautiful water fountain and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. It’s easy to get caught up in all the obvious stuff when out shooting but I like paying attention to the details because that is the aspect that will make or break a photo.

See more of my Los Angeles pictures.

4 thoughts

  1. Well said Richard. Excellent practical advice on photographing people, yet as you say they are a detail of the above photo. The photo shines without the people, but in this case the detail of the people helps add to the mood of having one of the beautiful views of downtown Los Angeles all to themselves. IMO, you could crop out the small clip of the building on the right. Seems like a distraction, but it is interesting that you chose not to crop it because you wanted the people to frame up well in that bottom right square.

  2. Thanks David. The building creeping up on the right wasn’t a conscious choice, but popped up in the frame since the viewfinder doesn’t have 100% coverage. I have thought about cropping it after the fact though that isn’t usually standard practice for me.

  3. It’s such a beautiful photograph. The building not showing in the view finder type of concern has happened to me many times. I would crop it to what you originally saw, though I do understand that some photographers don’t like to crop images. My father rarely cropped for these kind of reasons, but he did crop his square medium format images to the 4X5 ratio all the time and often planned his 2 1/4 photographs with this in mind.

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