5 Tips for Photographing People like a Professional

5 Tips for Photographing People like a Professional

Andrew Paynter is a San Francisco-based photographer and filmmaker. He primarily works on profiling creatives and revealing their creative processes. His work has attracted the interest of galleries in New York, Los Angeles and London, as well as multinational brands like Coca Cola, American Express, Levis, Converse, Hiut Denim, and The North Face. Last year he published a book for London-based publisher Do Books, entitled ‘Do Photo.’ The book was widely praised in the press for its honest story, as it revealed both his love for photography and his respect and admiration for his subjects.

We sat down with Andrew to learn a little more about his creative process, how music affects his work, and his 5 tips for taking professional photos of people.


Tell us a little about your career. How did you get started with photography?

I became interested in photography at a young age through my grandfather who was an avid picture taker. His stories of photography, particularly the ones when he was in the British Army in World War II, got me interested in the camera and its relationship to storytelling. As the years went by, I found myself in art school where I studied painting and experimented with beginner black and white photography. It’s what allowed me the time and space to learn, and I eventually applied this knowledge to documenting my life around me.

I photographed my skateboarder friends and eventually my music heroes. I began to see a path of how applied photography can be a very compelling counterpart to storytelling. I slowly began making contacts in the music and art worlds, exploring the relationship with these sub cultures in my work. Eventually, brands began to take notice and wanted me to make campaigns for them from a similar perspective. The camera has given me purpose and allowed me access to individuals whose work I’m so very moved by.


You can read more about Andrew's career to date in his latest book, Do/Photo: Observe. Compose. Capture. Stand out.


Does music influence your process and work at all?
Music has always driven so much of my creative energy. Sound, to me, is as inspiring as its visual counterpart. Music informs mood, creates atmosphere, and guides us as creators. I’ve always leaned on music as a soundtrack to my own work.

These days I find myself yearning for lower decimals to help soothe life’s chaos and to create a more calming mood. I’ve been listening to a lot of solo piano, Satie, Gonzales and Bremer McCoy. I also have jazz favorites such as Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Grant Green among others. I’ve also been very influenced by modern music, particularly the Chicago band Tortoise, who I have creatively collaborated with for over a decade. 



Model One Digital Gen 2


For us non-professionals, what tips do you have for taking photographs of people?


1. Observe
Observation, to me, is critical when considering when to take a photograph. There are so many variables that collectively can make or break a photo. It’s easy to jump the gun and become trigger happy, shooting everything, hoping you get something. The real challenge is waiting for the right moment, the right framing, and the right light to snap the photograph. Observing allows better connectivity not only with the subject, but within the environment you occupy.


      2. Connect
      Connectivity is so crucial in making photographs of people. Without a real connection, you’re less likely to make something unique that represents both your work and your subject’s personality. It is, of course, a luxury to have enough time with any person to connect like this, but it is well worth the wait.


          3. Play
          It’s easy to get wrapped up in all the technicalities of making photographs — the F-stops, the light meter, the light, the exposure, etc. If you let this technical stuff weigh you down, you’ll most likely to forget why you’re there and how to make photos that are collaborative and fun. Play is such an important aspect of making photographs. It’s important to drop the seriousness of it all and just have fun and connect with your subjects. It's when you’re having fun that your subjects relax into themselves and show us all a side of them that perhaps in other environments we may not see.


              4. Disarm Your Subject
              Many photographers are confronted with an array of different personalities. Most people don’t love being photographed, and we are tasked with finding a way to allow them to relax, let their guard down and give us all of what they are as individuals. Having the ability to read energy, to note behavior and feeling is critical. Don’t assume and always be polite and allow time to get to where you want to be. Never rush it.

                5. Leave Your Ego At The Door
                No matter what we do or who we are, we all have egos whether we like it or not. It’s just a part of being human. The key is understanding when to let go and allow things to just happen without feeling a need to force your ideas and complicate things. Some things you just can’t control, and I love that about photography. Leaving your ego and accepting the fact that you’re photographing another person (who very well may have their own ideas of how they want to be portrayed) is a responsibility that one shouldn’t ever downplay.

                  See more of Andrew Paynter's work at
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