How To Photograph Your Friends (And Why It’s Super Important)

How to Photograph Your Friends (And Why It's Super-Important!)

Doesn’t it seem crazy that I’m writing a huge article about something that sounds so simple? I mean, your friends are some of your favourite people in the world. Photographing them should be easy! But, if you’re like us, you’ll know it’s not quite so simple.

We’ve been pro photographers for 5 years, and are only now realizing how incredibly important it is to photograph the people we love. What’s really interesting is that we started off our career by photographing our friends. That’s how we practiced. From those shoots, we managed to launch a successful business.

And then, somewhere along the way, things changed. I think it’s a problem with becoming a pro. It’s like, if you aren’t making money off a shoot, it seems like you aren’t “successful”. If someone else is off shooting clients, making the dough, and you’re shooting friends, you feel like you aren’t doing as well…

Isn’t that a dangerous mindset? That if you make money with photography you should always be making money with photography. I’ve recently realized that I have a tendency to think this way, and am trying very hard to shake it.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against making money with photography. It’s quite awesome to pay your bills doing something you love. But unless you take the time to shoot just for the joy of photography, it can be easy to forget what you love about it. Burnout is just around the corner.

If you’re like us, and love shooting people, photographing your friends can result in some of the most rewarding experiences of your photographic career. 

Why Photographing Your Friends Is Super Important

First up, photographing your friends is really really fun. I mean, these are the people that you like to spend time with! Hanging out with a camera isn’t really that much different.

Sure, you might feel a bit shy or awkward at first, but just loosen up and have fun. It’s a blast! And those are photos that you’re going to appreciate for years. I feel so lucky to get to take, and to have, gorgeous images of my friends. I look back on them often, and always do so with a big smile on my face.

It’s also solid practice. Light, composition, posing, interaction—these are all things that you need to be constantly working on, and that you’ll get a chance to practice when you shoot your friends. And with less stress!

As fantastic as all of that is, I think the value of this type of photography goes much deeper… 

See The Details

For one, putting effort into shooting your friends reminds you to focus on truly seeing the things that are familiar to you. It’s a constant challenge of being a photographer—to avoid becoming blind to what you see repeatedly. You need to notice those details that most people overlook. And it’s surprisingly easy to overlook the people you see most often!

So, when you endeavour to photograph your friends, you’ll push yourself to keep noticing the little things. The exercise will help you with all types of photography, where the details can take an image from good to great.

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Gain Better Understanding of Expression

If you want to photograph people, then understanding facial expressions is going to be a BIG part of your job. While the stereotypical smiling and looking at the camera shot is always a winner (and a seller), the human face can express a LOT of emotions (hundreds or thousands, depending on who you ask).

I’ve personally found it much easier to appreciate different expressions when photographing my friends. I mean, I see them a lot. I know they have a lot of different expressions. So in photos, I really like seeing them in a variety of ways. Happy, silly, peaceful. I also appreciate the kind of expressions that reflect real life—like tired or thoughtful, annoyed or excited.

When you get to know someone, you start to recognize their own unique expressions. This takes time though. It’s not easy to do with clients you meet for the first time while shooting! So shooting your friends gives you a unique experience. You can recognize far more genuine and varied expressions thanks to your pre-existing relationship.

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Making People Look Good

When you photograph people, often your main job is to make them look good. And it’s certainly challenging. Not because people don’t look good, but rather because it can be tricky to balance a genuine expression with a flattering one. A full out laugh can look a little too intense to be pretty!

The more I photograph someone, the better I get at understanding how best to make them look good—the expressions, angles, and poses that best capture their gorgeousness.

And with friends, you have a fantastic opportunity to photograph the same person over and over again. What an amazing experience that is! You’ll learn more each time you shoot them, and find a deeper understanding that typically isn’t possible when you shoot someone for the first time.

What Really Matters? 

Perhaps the most valuable thing you can learn when you photograph the people you love is what really matters to you in a photo.

See, with clients, you’re often trying to capture what will sell well. That’s the nature of working for money. And, as I said before, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. Photographers are generally in business to make money so they can keep shooting! But that’s a very superficial level of photography—shooting what is saleable. There’s so much more to this art form, and so many amazing images to be taken that won’t necessarily become a large wall print.

From my own experience shooting my friends, I’ve come to realize that I love interaction and relationships in a photo. I don’t care if anyone is looking at the camera. I just want them to be themselves, and be absorbed in whatever they were doing that I wanted to capture with my camera.

And most of all, I want to see the way they look at the people *they* love. Their friends, their loved ones, their kids. Those expressions are so genuine, and make me so happy to see. That’s why I shoot.

I was able to bring that idea into the work I do for clients. I spent more time encouraging them to interact, and focused on photographing it. It’s challenging at times, but I think our clients are enjoying the results!!

What you care about in a photo may be different, but shooting your own friends can be a great way to discover it!

How To Set It Up

Hopefully by now you’re excited to start shooting your own friends! So I’ll give you a few tips on how to set it up.

Casual or Planned

First up, you can decide if you want to do it casually, or more planned. So by casual I’m talking about just bringing a camera with you, and taking photos of whatever is going on. Very candid, very relaxed. This will be great practice for any photojournalistic work that you want to do. You’ll learn how to capture a scene in a frame, and tell a story with your images.

What’s nice about casual shooting is that there isn’t much pressure. You just bring out your camera when you want to, but don’t need to feel like you *have* to shoot. If you’re a bit shy about shooting your friends, this is a great way to start.

Alternately, you can actually arrange a planned shoot with them. This approach can give you a lot more control.

Sometimes we do a very formal shoot with friends. Schedule a day, pick a location, figure out wardrobe, and then go out and do nothing else but shoot for a couple hours.

Recently we’ve also been building in photo time to other events. So we have a dinner party, and schedule in an hour to go out and take photos. It’s not quite as formal, and a great opportunity to shoot lots of friends at once (you can do individual shots, get the couples, and then shots of the whole group).

I don’t think there’s any one way that’s best. In fact, I think all methods are great! It just depends on who and how you want to shoot that day!

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Make It Awesome

One thing that will make the difference between decent snapshots, and awesome images of your friends is the effort you put in.

So pick a time of day that has great light for the location you’re going to use. Dinner parties are perfect for that. We figure out when golden hour is, and then plan to shoot during. Dinner comes after. :)

We also pick a neat location to take our friends to. We live in the suburbs, and are lucky to have a couple big open fields nearby. A quick walk down the street, and we’ve got a great location. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just a nice spot with great light. (Bonus, you’ll get some location scouting practice out of it!!)

We’ve also been starting to think of activities that will make for good photos. One night we busted out a pack of sparklers, and started playing around with them in the street. Nifty photos, and an insane amount of fun!

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Help Them Prepare

One important tip is to prepare your friends to be photographed. That means don’t just spring it on them when they show up. As fun as that “surprise” might seem, they probably would have preferred a heads up so they could look nice!

If you have an info PDF that you send to clients to help them dress for their session (which you totally should!), then you could just send that off to your friends as well.

They’ll really appreciate the help, and feel a lot more comfortable having their photo taken when they know they look good!

Make The Arrangement Clear

Especially if you’re a professional, it’s important to make the “arrangement” of the shoot clear.

By that I mean, do they get files? Can they post photos online? What if they want prints? How can they see the photos?

This is something that we’ve forgotten to discuss before shooting friends, and I’m sure it has led to some awkwardness. Our friends don’t know if we expect payment for the photos. I feel bad about making them worry like that!

Now, how you handle the arrangement is completely up to you. I’ll let you know how we approach it, in case you want some insight.

The way we look at it, if we ask our friends if we can take photos of them, then we wouldn’t charge them. The shoot is as much for us as it is for them. So we take the photos, give them a quick Lightroom edit, put up a gallery online so they can see them, and then we hook them up with files (usually just a ZIP file they can download). There’s no timeline for the images. It might take us a couple days, it might take a month or more if we’re super busy. It’s all very casual.

Now, if our friends ask us for a formal session, then we figure out pricing. It’s a totally different scenario when they ask. However you set it up will depend on what you’re most comfortable with. But the big takeaway is to make things clear up front so everyone is on the same page!  

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Let Them Take A Turn

Recently a friend asked to take a turn with our cameras during a group shoot. We got the settings right, gave them a super quick lesson on how to focus and shoot, and then let them go for it. My goodness, that was fun!!

Your friends are probably interested in photography, as most people are these days. Give them a chance to take some photos with your fancy camera! Being on the other side, with a friend shooting you, is a fantastic experience, and the photos are so much more meaningful. I’m in love with the photos my friend took of us, and am so glad she asked. (Check out this awesome shot she took of Rob!!)

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The Big Idea

Shooting your friends comes with a ton of benefits. It’s great practice, it’s fun, and you have the opportunity to learn a LOT.

Make sure to reflect on it afterwards. Take your time looking through the images. Think about the experience, and the photos, and what makes them great. What made it fun? What made it awkward? (Yep, sometimes it’s really awkward shooting people you know! You gotta practice and learn to get past that!) What do you love about the photos? How could you bring that into the rest of your work?

All of that stuff is awesome. You can become a better photographer, and have a blast shooting as well. Win win!!

But, one last benefit that I haven’t mentioned yet is the way it will affect your relationship with your friends. Every time I shoot my friends, I love them more. Taking the time to focus on them in that way, and capture them, reminds me of why they are my friends. I’m seriously lucky to have such amazing people in my life, and am even more lucky to be able to capture t
heir amazingness in my photos.

So start shooting your friends. A lot. Put effort into it, and I think you’ll find that what you get out of the experience is truly incredible.

(P.S. All the photos in this post are shots we’ve taken of our friends this year. The images might not be anything fancy, but I love them so much. And the awesome folks in them.)

Lauren Lim

Hey friend, I’m Lauren! I’m a photographer and head ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I’m downright obsessed with photography, and love sharing it with super cool folks like yourself. When I’m not shooting, or writing, you can find me cooking (and eating!), traveling, and hanging out with wonderful people.

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Comments

25 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. what a great reminder! I've been thinking about it in the fall rush, but this is a good push to commit to it and put time aside my loved ones.

  2. I completely agree that it is lovely to photograph friends (and family too), but unfortunately I've had experience with some that don't even say 'thank you', and then others don't value the photos at all because they just don't 'get' custom photography. Needless and unfortunate to say I'm a lot more selective when choosing who to offer a session to now.

  3. *@Tricia:* It's definitely tough to squeeze it in during this super busy time! Glad this was a good reminder for you!

    *@Brandi:* I'm so sorry to hear that you've had bad experiences shooting friends and family. :( I think you're totally right, that being selective, and photographing people who really _get it_ is a much better experience for everyone involved!

  4. Since I'm no pro, friends and family are pretty much the only ones I photo. This means I have a lot of great photos of the people who are up for the more or less candid photo. Others shy away from the camera or are constantly caught in an awkward pose+expression. I think inviting people over for a more planned shoot (as casual as it may be) is a great idea. Preparing them for being photographed is important: No matter how little you consider yourself vain you still look better in a photograph when you feel comfortable and prepared.
    This is a great way to practice photography – and when my family photo album is of a quality like the ones you included in this post I'll be a proud man. :D

  5. I think this is a great idea and a great way to remind yourself how and why you got into this business :) And if I forgot to mention it before, muchas gracias for the photo :)

  6. Great Article :) Love all of the advice :)

  7. Long but helpfull article !
    I used to take pictures of my friends a lot. But since I got my nex3 it feels a little bit awkward to shoot them with it. Even if it is still quite small, it is still bulky compared to a compact camera (and the noise of the shutter is not really discreet). So taking trivial pictures of them (which I think I like the most) with this "big" camera for seems a little bit disproportionnate !
    When there are some particular events it is more easy for me, as it is "necessary" to take pictures.
    But I think that I should try to follow your advice and let them taking my camera. It happened already, and I got some really funny pictures !

  8. Perfect timing!..I've been thinking about setting up some sessions with friends lately and appreciate the tips! I've also been wanting to put together a What To Wear/Prep for Your Session PDF or Blog page, but don't know quite where to start…it would be awesome if you made a blog post related to that! Thanks!

  9. Thanks for this post, a great read-needed this!

  10. Thanks for a great post – very useful. I really like the idea of scheduling a shoot to coincide with a pre-planned event.

  11. Generally, if I suggest a shoot it's free, but if they request a shoot then there may be some money involved but that's all worked out before hand.
    I rarely bring the camera out for specific events with friends as A) it's a big setup and B) if it do i tend to move from having fun to observing the fun. Maybe that's something I need to work on.
    It's much easier to get girls to jump in on a shoot. My guy friends would never willingly participate. Maybe I need to do a themed shoot that is guy-centric.

  12. I love to photograph my friends and theirs kids. I'm doing it for fun. It's very stimulating and rewarding. I'm thinking about doing a formal portrait session with a friend. It's a little bit scary. I'm going to read your shy photographer guide before. I noticed that a lot of your portraits are backlit. Are you using a reflector or fill flash in this situation ? How do you meter the scene to get your subject well exposed. I love your work. It's very inspiring.

  13. Great Post!
    I'm thinking about to photograph a couple of friends with their new baby. Your tips and photos are always inspiring.

    And I'm agree with Rachel.
    It will be really nice to have a little more information about your Info PDF for clients or friends. I do not know how to start my Info PDF and it would be nice if you could give us some clues…
    Many, many thanks in advance!

  14. *@Christian:* The natural response for many folks is to shy away from the camera. I think as a photographer friend you have a fantastic opportunity to get them more comfortable being photographed! And formalizing the experience even a little bit really seems to help! And thanks so much for the kind compliment. I really love these photos :)

    *@Maryana:* Thanks so much for commenting! You're so right, it really reminds us of all the wonderful people who have supported us on this crazy journey! And you are, of course, very welcome :)

    *@Charlie:* Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it!

    *@Pioum:* Lol! I probably could have written twice as much. I seem to have a lot to say about friends :) Interesting that the NEX is making you feel awkward. I've started shooting friends with our Canon 5D, so it's quite a bit bigger! I think you just need to jump in, and the awkwardness will go away! They'll get used to you having your camera around. And handing it to them is tons of fun!!

    *@Rachel:* So glad this was helpful! And great suggestion, I'll put that on my list of articles to tackle!

    *@Crystal + Natalie:* You are most welcome! Very happy you found it useful!

    *@Evan:* I love the idea of a guy-centric themed shoot. Having shot many groomsmen, I know that it is possible for guys to enjoy having photos done, but it definitely needs to be more _active_. When I take photos during events it's generally just a shot or two, and then I put the camera back down. I just keep it nearby, but I'm not shooting constantly. I think it helps to get great photos, but still have fun!

    *@Louis:* I love photographing friends and their kids as well! An extra level of fun in there :) I still get quite nervous doing formal portrait sessions with friends, but am always SO glad I did it. The images are so meaningful to everyone involved! We didn't use any reflectors or fill flash in any of those photos. Most were taken at "golden hour":http://www.photographyconcentrate.com/2011/may/13/make-your-photos-magical/, so the backlighting isn't too strong, and we're still able to get great light on their faces. We shoot in manual, set the ISO, pick our aperture, and then adjust shutter speed to get the exposure we want. We teach how to shoot in manual quite extensively in our "Extremely Essential Camera Skills tutorial":http://www.photographyconcentrate.com/extremely-essential-camera-skills/, in case you're looking to learn more! Thank you so much for the kind words!

    *@Santiago:* Thanks for the comment! I'm so glad you found this useful! How exciting that your friends have a new baby, that's definitely a perfect time for some amazing photos! And I'll get working on a post to help out with the PDF!

    Thanks again everyone for commenting! So happy to hear from you all! :)

  15. This is exactly how we started to build a portfolio up when we first started out. We found friends were quite interested in a 'free' shoot – and it often leads to a follow up paid booking :) Bonus all around – great article guys.

  16. I love this article and what fantastic ideas!! I started off practicing on friends and family. And whenever I shoot family, I would never charge them and my BFF, how could I charge?? But I take it just as seriously as any other "paid" gig and we talk and plan and gather ideas together of what they want, what I'd suggest, etc. It's a wonderful way to get your feet wet!! And I would LOVE if someone did this for my husband and I, too :)

  17. I love this article and what fantastic ideas!! I started off practicing on friends and family. And whenever I shoot family, I would never charge them and my BFF, how could I charge?? But I take it just as seriously as any other "paid" gig and we talk and plan and gather ideas together of what they want, what I'd suggest, etc. It's a wonderful way to get your feet wet!! And I would LOVE if someone did this for my husband and I, too :)

  18. Hello lovelies!!!
    Thanks for the post!! I have learnt so much from my wonderful patient friends who allowed me to photograph them! There was no pressure to deliver so I could make all the newbie mistakes I wanted :) However, down the track, I don't so it so much nowadays. You have reminded me how important it is! As a sideline- I think you guys should visit us Down Under!!!!

  19. Great article. Great reminder. I'm a portrait photographer and often when i have the time to relax with friends and family i just want to relax. One way i try to keep my passion for photography alive is to spend time shooting things, places, landscapes… not just people.

    I would also vote for a post about how to direct clients on what to wear for sessions. I have general guidelines which I always share, but it's so important… would love more ideas.

  20. Wonderful article, although I shoot friends now and then I should make more of a point to do it. No charge however. I love their expressions when I give them their photos and its great practice for myself.

  21. Love this post! Such great ideas.
    Mary, momma to many
    (now wanting some good pix of my friends)

  22. Thank you for the post, realizing how much important and useful shooting friends is. Feel so excited about doing it as soon as possible!

  23. I really accept your idea “‘we started off our career by photographing our friends'” you were obviously right about that.

  24. I just found this post on Pinterest and wanted to thank you for writing so many wise words! I started offering free photography sessions with my friends last summer and learned so much from those evenings (hooray for the golden hour!). It was so nice to be able to start off in a casual manner and really just get my feet wet in the whole portrait photography scene (I shoot still life, primarily!). That said, this summer, I plan on asking some friends for additional practice and am so glad I read this before I put my offer on the table. It was refreshing and it’s cool to hear that everyone should be photographing their friends–pros and amateurs (like me!) alike. :)

  25. Thank you so much for this post! My best friend of 30+ years just asked me if I would do a portrait of her and her Mom. While I am honoured and excited, I find myself incredibly nervous! You see, I specialize in interiors and architecture photography and only photograph portraits when I am asked. I actually refer to myself as “the reluctant portrait photographer”! I do find it incredibly rewarding to capture a moment with someone – and when they are happy with the results – though do feel more comfortable photographing spaces vs people. I usually say “yes” to portrait shoots because I want to push myself out of my comfort zone – eventhough I’m a nervous wreck beforehand! Your post is helping me to try and take a more relaxed approach to my upcoming shoot and have FUN! I have bookmarked your post and plan to read it many more times in the future! Thanks again!

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