A Face in The Crowd

Capturing people in crowds or groups has positive and negative sides. On the positive side is the fact that you are able to blend in. On the negative side is that others get in the way. Being photographers, especially in “Street” we cannot think negatively otherwise we should just give up. We have to continually work to turn those negatives into positives.

There is sheer frustration when there is a beautiful, well composed shot right ahead of you, except, people keep passing, or a person or people decide to take up residence in your line of view. It could even be the people the subject is with, and they keep moving in front of the subject. You may have to move but lose that composition, A Face in the Crowdbut there is something so compelling that you want to capture, that you are willing to forsake that original shot, just to get that specific subject. I have shot many people in crowds, or groups, where the odds are against me getting the shot I want, due to a lot of people around or just passing, but I have persisted and got it.

The shot on the left shows this. It is a pretty girl looking in front of her, in a very big crowd with people moving about around her. I had no chance of getting anywhere near her to get a good shot. I waited until there was a gap and I got a couple of shots, then suddenly she turned as the person between us moved slightly forward and looked at me. Click! What a great shot.


At the Wales v Scotland Rugby International I got the following shot. I was really pleased with it as it was this guys expression that I was after, and got. The crowd numbers were huge. The only option if I wanted the guy alone in the shot, was to ask the other people to move out of the way, ha!

A Face in The Crowd
A Face in The Crowd

Some people thought that the man on the right should have been cropped out. I had thought about that myself and having the benefit of looking at both options, I decided to leave him in as I felt it added to the shot. It also gave a wider aspect to the shot, which is what I prefer as opposed to square.


I have always been fascinated by shots where a face is picked out of the crowd. There is something about it that really appeals to me. It is the natural framing, as you can see in the above shot, using the other people as the frame. It is also similar to when you have good bokeh, or you manage to get good separation from the background. The difference is that quite often it is people in the foreground that are out of focus. Sometimes though this doesn’t work as your eyes get drawn to the other subjects and not the main subject you are focused on.

This next shot shows exactly what I am trying to explain. The beautiful woman is in sharp focus, with those around her out of focus to different degrees, so the viewers eye goes directly to her smiling face.

Cardiff Bay
Cardiff Bay

It is always better to shoot close up with a wide aperture, then it puts all but your subject out of focus, with them being pin sharp. This shows in the shot as eyes get drawn to it. The issue with shooting at a further distance is that people around come into focus due to the wider depth of field. It can then look like a group or crowd shot and your subject is lost amongst them, although there is another trick, but this will rely on your subject. We will look at that a little further down.


One issue when shooting with a DSLR is the choice of lens in regard to focusing.

I almost always use my Nikkor 85mmA Face in the Crowd
f1.8d Prime lens, with my aperture set at f2.8. Although not a small lens, it is not huge either and is comfortable to carry around in one hand all day.

Some people like Zoom lenses as they allow you to get closer shots whilst being further away. Unless you have a Zoom with a fixed wide aperture, your aperture is going to narrow as you zoom, so instead of shooting at say f2.8 or similar, you will be shooting at say f6.3 or higher, and therefore having such a small aperture will give a wider depth of field as mentioned above.

There are other negatives with using Zooms. The main one being that they are a lot larger than Primes. Unless they have Internal Focusing, as you zoom in on a subject the barrel extends, which can really draw attention to you. The downside to the Internal Focusing Zooms, is normally the size and weight, and the biggie, the cost. They will cost a considerable amount of money. But as in all aspects of photography you get what you pay for. Or should do anyway.


When this type of shot really works above all others is when you get eye contact. The eye contact removes everybody else from the shot, and makes the connection between Photographer and Subject. I think the following pairs of shots show this very well.

Everyone in the shot is out of focus apart from the subject and the man behind, but you don’t notice him as we have the full face of the subject.

Queen Street, Cardiff
Queen Street, Cardiff

This is head on and even though the woman to the side is in focus, due to the eye contact, there is a connection between myself and the lovely lady in green. A clear line of sight between all others around. It’s as if there are only the two of us there.

Queen Street, Cardiff
Queen Street, Cardiff

In this second pair we have the same. It is a nice shot of the pretty girl and all others are out of focus. I think this is a nice stand alone shot.

Cardiff Bay
Cardiff Bay

Then we have eye contact. The connection is made and once again there is only the photographer or viewer and the subject.

Cardiff Bay
Cardiff Bay

In this shot we also have the connection. She knows it is her I am shooting, so looks straight through the channel between the others who are unaware.

Queen Street, Cardiff
Queen Street, Cardiff

The next two shots show the little trick I was referring to above.

Although all the girls are on the same focal plane and I am not that close, I have purposely waited with viewfinder to my eye until the girl looked at me. This then separated her from the others and makes her the subject as there is no interest to you of the others.

Queen Street, Cardiff
Queen Street, Cardiff

The same trick is used in this shot. The PSCO was talking to the two men, so it was just a group shot with them talking. Once again I stood with eye to the viewfinder, until I had caught her eye. We have the shot!

The Hayes, Cardiff
The Hayes, Cardiff


There were huge crowds in Cardiff Bay for the Food & Drink Festival. I saw this girl with a lot of tattoos walking the other side of a group of people. Luckily for me she was quite tall. I was panning until I could get a clear shot, but this was impossible with the sheer number of people. But I persisted, and she noticed me. Eye contact. Click!

The difference with this shot compared to the previous two, is that they were both stationary and I just had to wait and hope they looked up. Also this girl was not on the same plane as others around. This shot also needed me to follow the line the girl was taking and hope an opening occurred, which luckily for me it did.

Cardiff Bay
Cardiff Bay

If you would like to see an excellent example of a shot through the crowd, then take a look at Tina Leggio’s shot “Watching The Crowd Go By” which I posted in the Featured Photographer Series on my favourite shots of hers. Sheer persistence got her the shot. It is truly magnificent. It is my favourite shot of hers and amongst my favourite 10 Street Photography shots. Did I say I liked it?


4 thoughts on “A Face in The Crowd

  1. Julián del Nogal

    I think patience, luck and a correct focal use are the key to get a face in the crowd if the protagonist is standing. Unfortunately the most of times we need shot quick to avoid to prevent “target” escapes, then, luck is the most important factor to get the succesful image. Street photography is really like a hunting…!
    Interesting article, Wayne.
    Best.
    Julián

    • Thank you Julian.

      I agree it is like hunting, waiting for that right opportunity. But nobody getting hurt.

  2. I agree with both of you, it is a peaceful hunting ! I read with a great interest you post, especially when you speak about zooms versus prime lens. I understand your point of view about prime lens ( the smaller size, the big aperture…)
    But I still use a zoom, because I think I would lost opportunities if I had only a prime lens, 50 or 85…
    Sometimes, I try to “block” my zoom, but I feel frustrated !
    Luck is important but first, you must be at the good place… and wait, and the luck will come more often !
    I love the shot of the young lady with the sunglasses and the conninving smile, like if you were connected. Well, you were !!

  3. I’ve been catching up with the last few posts that you’ve done and I enjoyed this one immensely. Once again, I can’t even pick a favorite shot because I think they’re all great. I do like how in the shot of the woman eating ice cream, how she is perfectly centered between the two people in front of her. I really like the message of the post about how you work with what you have. Street photography really is tricky in that sense. There is so much going on which makes for great pictures, but at the same time, makes it difficult to get those same pictures.

    That was really nice of you to mention my photo. I’m glad you liked it so much. I really like taking shots of crowds because they act as a sort of frame for your subject. I’d really like to get a prime lens one day. As much as I like my zoom lens, it does tend to make me lazy sometimes. Great post!

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