Snapshots or Photographs - Five Tips for Memorable People Shots

March 07, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

What do you think of most of the pictures you see on Facebook these days? Think about how many people may look at those photos. Would you like to make memorable photographs instead of snapshots of people and places? Here are five tips that will get a lot more “likes” on Facebook.

1)       Frame your subject

Your mind takes what your eye sees and focuses on something – this will likely become the subject in your photograph. Remember that a photograph is a very small view of your actual field of vision. It is basically a little rectangle shaped paper in the field of vision of your viewer, so a good photograph is constructed to catch your viewer’s attention and draw it to your intended subject. So, give a little thought to what you want your viewer to focus on.  Are you trying to show the gorilla at the zoo or your daughter looking over the railing at the gorilla enclosure?

Your brain searches patterns and colors in a photograph for something.  Take advantage of your viewer’s brain.  Placing the subject off-center is a trick to cause a viewer’s mind to click in and work to “discover” something and focus on it. Most photographers use the “rule of thirds” to line up the subject of their photo off-center.  Mentally divide your photo into thirds horizontally and vertically and put the subject at the intersection of one of these “cross-hairs”, to attract your eye.  Use the remainder of the picture for elements that draw attention to your subject.

Here is a typical snapshot of some people at a small party.  Both Mary and Ann are occupying the bottom 2/3 of the shot but Mary is looking at the camera and Ann is looking off into the room.  Don’t you wonder what Ann is seeing?  Does Ann look a little blurred so are you straining to make out her features?  Combined, these all made this a “bad” picture.

 

2)       Simplify. 

So, simplify the shot.  Notice that arms, patterns in clothes, hair, etc. can create subliminal lines that draw your attention to the subject, but they can also point away from the subject.  Avoid things that will “upstage” your intended subject – a bright light, a television screen, things growing out of your subject like a lamp or a tree branch, etc. If there are bright colors or lights along the edges of your photo it draws attention to the area outside your photo and away from your subject. Get closer to your subject or step to one side to get a different angle and “remove” the offending item.

Now, here is a photograph of the same scene. I got closer and used the picture frame on the wall and Ann’s arm to direct attention to Mary’s smiling eyes. Does that smile imprint itself in your memory? Everything around her eyes and her smile plays a supporting part rather than distracting your attention. Pretty cool, isn’t it.

 

Sometimes, one of the best things you can do is have your subject step away from the wall or background.  For example, the classic family shot has everybody in front of the fireplace.  The shot is always cluttered with distractions on the mantle, the fireplace tools, etc.  Try placing your subject 6 to 8 feet in front of the fireplace.  A camera phone or compact camera will typically focus about 6 to 12 feet from the camera.  If you stand about 6 feet in front of your subject, the fireplace will be about 12 to 14 feet away and slightly out of focus.  Your eye will be directed to the elements that are in focus but keeps the context of the home setting for your photograph.

3)       Apply the rules with your subject too.

People get bored looking at a full-frontal face in a photo.  It’s a mug shot and it's the least flattering shot you can make.  How many times have you seen the family group shot where everyone is facing straight into the camera? You will probably prefer people shots where you have a partial or turned view of faces. People naturally tend to try to look at a person’s eyes to see where they are looking so try to get your subjects to look directly into your camera with their eyes while facing slightly away.  If people are not your main subject you can direct attention to an object in a photo by having all the people looking at it.  Be careful about this.  Don’t take your shot when people are looking at something outside the picture, you create an “exit” that draws attention outside the picture and causes people to imagine that item.  That is a mental exercise that can help or irritate your viewer.

With people, the main subject is generally not their face but their eyes. Don’t forget to consider how you want those eyes to appear.  Are they in shadow (forehead or brows) so you have to strain to see them?  This is the time to check for lighting in the room or a flash. All you want to do is fill in the shadows, though, so don’t over think the exposure, and your camera will probably do it automatically if you let it.

4)       Don’t just stand there

Now that you’ve got your photo just about composed, consider the perspective of the end photograph and whether it is right for your viewer.  Can you show something a little more interesting by getting down on the same level as the kids faces or getting up on a chair? For example, if you want to show the wonder of Christmas, get down to the level of the kids eyes and take a picture looking up at the decorations, presents, parents, etc. If you are making a picture of kids, kneel or sit so the camera is at the height of their faces. You may help your subjects if you stand while they sit and have everyone look up just a little so they lift their chins and cause any wrinkles in their neck to disappear.

5)       Display the best and dump the rest.

Just because you can take a unlimited numbers of pictures of something with your digital camera doesn’t mean you should display all of them. Check your pictures to see if the composition and exposure look right.  Get rid of the bad ones or fix them if they can be salvaged. There are basic tools for fixing things (e.g. “crop”) on most computers now.  You can cut out the extra parts around the edge of your photo to make it fit the rule of thirds before you display it.    Even grandparents get tired of looking 30 or 40 pictures of kids opening presents at Christmas and who do you know that wants to look at 50 or 60 pictures of animals at the zoo?  Once you’ve got “acceptable” photos, choose 2 or 3 of your favorites to post or display. People may ask to see your pictures if they are memorable and they know you only have a couple to show.


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