Photographing People by John Tilsely

Photographing People by John Tilsely


The last blog I wrote was about Street Photography. Although all the images I shared contained people’ they were not specifically photographs of people. I think Street Photography is an accepted genre which often includes specific photographs of people. In the same way this is true of event photography. For instance in June I was part of the photographic team recording the Wimborne Folk Festival. I was tasked over the two days to photograph all the dance teams and their musicians performing in the streets. What was required was a record of what was happening in the streets of Wimborne. As an event photographer you want the images that you submit to represent what you and the audiences experienced. The diversity of the styles of dance and music, the colour vibrancy and music all around you and most of all the joy of live performance. To achieve this I took almost 2000 images which I am sure included at least the same number of people. I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and think that the images I submitted to the organizers fulfilled those aims.

However as I am working away amongst the performers I have my eyes open for something different. I am always looking for somebody who will be an ideal subject for a “People” picture. It may be the way that they dress, the way they stand, the way that they move or how they are interacting with the performance. The British have a reputation for eccentricity and originality and that is what I am looking for. For instance if I see somebody with a flowing grey beard wearing a Pith helmet, a waistcoat, white trousers and with English Setter on a lead, I know with a bit of luck I am going to get a good picture. I am a bit like a writer who observes the people around him absorbing their characters for use in future novels. I have been photographing the festival for the last 20 years so when my Pith helmet meets up with the top hat worn by 92 year old Sarum Morris Member it can only get better.

  Wimborne Folk Festival is a real family event for both performers and audience.  The children love the spectacle and are enthralled by all aspects of the event and if their parents are dancing or playing they soon become involved.  Three years ago I photographed this image of a father and his son; almost a “mini me” the boy hadn’t earned his bells and I can only hope that it is juice in his tankard. This year I was pleased to see that he had his bells and was joined by his younger brother.





As I say, I spend time people watching and I have a good memory for faces. This is another example of the same child but 3 years apart.     

When photographing dance groups I will often adopt a low view point, using a wide angle lens this will enhance the drama of the dance. Once down there I will be looking at the audience; in particular the children, for more people pictures. 

The festival is usually blessed with wonderful weather, in all the years that I have photograhed there it has only rained one morning. June is hot, ice cream is high on most peoples’ agenda.






If it’s not ice cream then it is beer or a cigarette!


During the day, at each of the venues in the town, 2 dance teams will be sharing the performance. Whilst I am there primarily to photograph the dancing, it always pays to keep an eye on the non-performers who can be a great source for people pictures



After all these years I think I have developed a sense for what will make a good “people image. You just look around you, engage with everybody and you will hear some of them saying to you photograph me, I am different.