Updated: Jun 7, 2019
Count on unpredictability when photographing two people together. It doesn’t matter whether they’re siblings, best friends, a newly engaged couple or even folks who’ve been together a long time. It’s hard to predict exactly what you’ll get.
A couple things are key:
- #1 – have fun, and that means it’s OK for you as the photographer to have fun.
- #2 – stick to your goal of getting an end result where both people not only look good but also are in focus. Sound easy? Well, not necessarily. I’ve rejected many otherwise good shots where I succeeded in only getting one person in focus.
What if you only accomplish #1? Or none?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s OK. It’s a great excuse to get together again – for another photoshoot.
Here are 10 tips on how to get the results you want when photographing two people outdoors, in an informal setting during the day, using a handheld camera without a flash. Good lenses to use? Well, it’s always the one you have! For these kinds of shots, I use a 35mm prime, a 50mm prime, or a zoom like a 55-200mm, 18-140mm or 24-70mm.
Most of these tips can also work when photographing more than two people.
1. Prior to your shoot, understand your relationship between your subjects. Are they siblings? Relatives? Friends? An engaged couple? Business partners? Actors? Classmates? Understanding this will help you think about the best ways to convey their relationship.
2. Be cognizant of your background. If you can, figure out your background before you start shooting. Simple is almost always better. I detail this in my prior blog post, “8 Tips for Simple Backgrounds.”
3. Mentally size up how comfortable your subjects are. They’ll likely become more at ease as you move along in your photoshoot. But until you sense this happening, don’t worry that many of your early shots might be throwaways.
4. Give direction. The interaction between your subjects is often what makes the photo memorable. It’s best to have something in mind to help your subjects connect with each other. Otherwise, they might just stare back at you.
5. Don’t forget the in-between moments – the spontaneous ones between planned shots. Often, the best photos are those that catch people at unguarded moments, when folks are probably the most relaxed.
6. Ensure that both subjects are in focus, which is harder than it sounds, particularly when shooting in low light or using a wide aperture, like f/2.8. It helps to have your subjects on the same focal plane, without one face in front of the other.
7. With young kids, wrangling them into thoughtful poses might almost be impossible. Let them be themselves and have fun while shooting. I’ve felt silly plenty of times, such as saying ‘poop’ as two young girls ran around and rolled in laughter – because I said poop. But, I got some good shots! Thankfully, the parents were OK (I think!) with my language.
8. Generally speaking, good apertures for photographing two people are in the range of about f/3.5-f/5.6. Low f-stops are often desirable because the backgrounds end up pleasingly soft or diffused. However, the lower the number, the greater potential that someone (or part of someone) might end up out of focus. It’s still possible to get both people in focus at an even lower aperture than f/3.5, as long as their faces are on the same focal plane. Of course, there are other factors that could come into play, like lens selection, distance between you and your subjects, as well as the distance between your subjects and their background. In terms of shutter speed, I happen to do a lot of portrait work at 1/320th of a second, which works for me to help lock in sharpness most of the time.
9. If your camera has exposure compensation controls, they can come in handy when shooting portraits. Often, I will make exposure comp adjustments to make sure people’s faces are properly exposed. You can easily increase or decrease exposure comp while you’re shooting to correct for under- or over exposured faces.
10. Did I mention that you need to have fun? Oh yeah, I did. Well, reiterating that makes for a nice reminder, and a 10th tip – a good, round number!