How to Have Success With Crowd Photography

Great crowd shots require a bit more creativity to capture something special

Couple taking self-portrait at music festival
Paul Bradbury/Getty Images

Crowd photography is a challenge for several different reasons, but you can counteract these potential problems with good shooting techniques.

Avoid Stray Faces

Obviously, the biggest key is to make sure other people in the crowd do not negatively affect your shot. They can partially block your view and affect the composition of the shot.

Find a position where you can eliminate the faces of strangers in the photo while keeping the subject in the proper place in the frame.

Beware of Camera Shake

If you're trying to shoot a long zoom photo from the back of a crowd, your camera could suffer from camera shake. The more magnification you're using with your camera's optical zoom, the greater the chance there will be a slight blur from camera shake.

Try to steady yourself as much as you can, which can be difficult when being jostled by a crowd, or shoot in shutter priority mode to use the fastest shutter speed you can.

Up, Up, and Shoot

An eager crowd enters the lobby at the Long Beach Convention Center for Anime Expo 2007
© Deb Aoki

Climb higher, if you can. It’s easier to shoot photos without being blocked by others in the crowd if you can move above the crowd. If you're outdoors, use a small brick wall or an outdoor staircase for shooting your photos. Or look for an outdoor cafe that's on the second floor of a building, giving you a balcony from which to shoot.

Use the Crowd

At times you may want to shoot a photo that shows the crowd itself. Try to maneuver yourself so that at least part of the crowd is facing you. Your photos of the crowd itself will have a better look if you can see some faces in the photo, rather than the backs of dozens of heads. Again, if you can move upward, you'll have better success with showing the breadth and depth of the crowd.

Reduce the Depth of Field

If you can, try shooting at a narrow depth of field. By making a large portion of the photo out of focus, you’ll have fewer distractions in the background of the image, which can be a problem with a lot of people around. The blurred background will allow your subject to stand out from the crowd. 

Conversely, if you’re trying to focus on something in the background that’s beyond the crowd, such as a stage or the architectural design of the roof of the stadium shown in the photo above, you’ll have to shoot with a wide depth of field. In this case, having the backs of dozens of heads in the shot probably is unavoidable.

Use a Tilting LCD

Digital Camera LCD Screen
Junko Kimura / Staff / Getty Images

If you have a camera that includes an articulated LCD, you're going to have better luck shooting photos inside a crowd. Hold the camera above your head and, hopefully, above the heads of those people in the crowd, while using the tilted LCD to frame the scene properly. Be considerate of others around you in the crowd, especially if you’re at a performance or a sporting event. Though it happens often in the world of the social media/mobile photographers, it's important to remember standing up in the middle of the crowd and blocking others' view while you shoot a series of photos is inconsiderate.

Shoot From the Hip 

One technique to try on occasion when shooting in a crowd is "shooting from the hip." Hold your camera at waist level and just press the shutter button several times while you're panning the crowd or walking through it. Although you cannot control the composition of the scene using this method, it won't be obvious that you're shooting photos, which may cause those in the crowd to act more naturally. You probably will end up with a lot of unusable photos using this technique, but you could capture something special.