10 Practical Tips on How to Take Better Human Interest photos

Photosafari trips have been a great learning experience for both participants and organisers. We have organised these specialised photo trips for more than five years. During our photosafari trips we shared our photography experiences with the participants and in return learned a lot from the perspectives and pictures taken by our participants. We have established an open sharing culture so that we can learn from each other.

It has been a wonderful journey so far. We have gathered many experiences and have connected with many people all over the world. We came to understand each other better regardless of our race or culture.

I would like to share the 10 tips on how to take better human interest photos based on our experiences of over more than forty photosafari trips that we have organised over the past five years.

Why do we use the word human interest photography? There have been a lot of definitions and arguments on what is or is not street and documentary photography. In order to avoid being drawn into such non-productive arguments, we simply name this genre, human interest photography. Like the genre suggests, it is about human beings and their relationship with their culture and the environment.

Some of the techniques described here are so simple that sometimes we did not realise how important it is.

So here it goes:-


1.      Introduce yourself

A simple act like introducing yourself to a stranger in a foreign environment helps. Most subjects are friendly if you make it a point to introduce yourself. A simple hello, your name and where you come from helps. Strangers want to know who you are, why you are there and where you come from. This will inevitably open a lot of social doors. Sometimes, we get invited to their house for tea even though we do not speak their language. Learning to speak a few words in the local language like hello, thank you, good morning, etc will put our new found friends at ease.



2.     Interact and share the photos you have taken of them.

Human interest photography is also about interaction with your subjects. Just let them know and share what you are doing is often the best way to meet people and make new acquaintances. Take some time to let the subjects know what you have taken. They are often curious on how they look like on the LCD screen. They may even get their friends to pose for you.





3.      Promise to give them a soft or hard copy of the image files

Not many people in the world are rich enough to spend money on photos of themselves especially those that are well taken. They would often request for a hard or a soft copy. What you can do is to take down their names and addresses so that you can fulfil their promise. Just make sure you fulfil that promise. Your subjects are looking forward to it. It will make their day when they receive those photos from you. In this picture, one of our members took the name, email, home address and phone number. We have already collected the digital files after the trip and sent over to our subject.



4.      What to do when you encounter language barriers?

When encountering language barriers in a foreign land, the best way to engage the subjects is by action rather than words. Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. Your subjects do not look at it that way. It is part of the fun in communicating. Just use the silent movie mode. It is a fool proof formula to bring laughter and friendship. That is why Mr Bean’s shows are able to draw huge audiences all over the world regardless of language or race.




5.      How do you shoot in low light?

I have been asked very often how I shoot in low light conditions which is for more than 50% of the time. Most of the time when shooting in low light and slow shutter speed is to brace your body by keeping the elbow close to the body. If there is column or stable object, use it to brace the camera or your body. If you have a Nikon, use the auto focus assist light….joking.

Another tip that I have used to shoot in low light environemnt is to set the aperture and shutter speed to the desired settings and allow the auto ISO feature to adjust itself.





6.      Capturing brilliant backgrounds

Have you ever wonder, how some photographers always have all the luck capturing subjects with brilliant backgrounds? Cartier Breeson has advised photographers to choose a nice background and wait for the subject (s) to fill up the picture. If you going on an outing with a group of friends get someone to volunteer to be the subject so that the rest can set up their cameras for exposure, framing and composition….sometimes even the choice of lenses.





7.      Take part in the local custom

Very often strangers in foreign lands will invite you to take part in their culture like offering you a cup of yak butter tea. It is polite to oblige. This act will open a lot of doors for you to interact with your subjects and learn about their culture. One of the joys of travelling is to understand the local customs and culture.





8.      Don’t just take, try to give too.

I have witness a lot of photographers who just take photos of their subject and leave. Have you ever ask what have you given back to your subjects in return? Photography is a two way process. Try to bring some small gifts like pencils, exercise books, balloons, lollipops, toys, etc for the children of the community. We usually hand out these little gifts to the community we meet along the way. I usually carry about three to four kg of these little gifts in my luggage.





9.      Use a local guide whenever possible

If you are traveling in a foreign land for the first time for photography, it is often easier to engage with the local photographers or guides to assist you to go to places that are off the beaten track. Local guides provide invaluable local experiences and also iron out unpleasant situations.





10.   Kids are one of the easiest subjects to convince.

Kids are one of the easiest subjects to engage. They often take strangers at face value. Do not take advantage of this situation less you will be branded a pedophile. When adults see that your intentions are genuine, they will participate too. Just bring yourself down to their level and have fun.




I hope you enjoyed reading these tips. If you have the time to spare, do come and join us in some of our photosafari journeys.


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