15.04.2006 -17 °C
Ok, you're in Rome. You want to take a picture of your girlfriend infront of St. Peter's. How do you do it ? Here are a few hints.
Where's Waldo !?!
This is a personal pet peeve of mine. And, yes, I too did this before someone pointed it out to me. So don't feel too bad about it. The average "vacation" shot consists of some gorgeous landscape with your girlfriend, boyfriend, kids, mom, etc. in the foreground. Cropped midway from waist to well above the head. The person takes up less than 1/5th of the entire frame; just sneaking in to the frame to show "Hey, I was there !!". You've all seen it. You know "the picture" I'm talking about. Always reminds me of the front covers from the "Where's Waldo" books where Waldo sneaks onto the cover to wave at you.
So what's wrong with it ? What's wrong is that, is it a picture of a person or a place ? If the scenery is beautiful, it deserves to be photographed ! If the person in the photograph is dear to you, give her the framing she deserves ! Don't go half way !
If your photograph is to say "what a beautiful place", go wide. Fill the frame with the landscape. If you have a SLR, close down the aperature to f11 or above. If you have a point and shoot camera, use the landscape mode (little mountain thing on the dial). Then to show "you were there !", step way back, have your girlfriend step into the frame so that you get the majority of her body in frame, but not taking up more than 1/8th of the frame, and shoot. What will happen is you will have a sharp picture of the entire landscape, with your girlfriend just noticable but not taking away from the great scenery. To add pizzaz to the photo, you might have her make a face, or strike a pose, or put her at one of the cross-points according to the rule of thirds (see my article on rules of composition).
It was important for me that I capture the background to record my accomplishment of driving across Canada. So I framed it wide and included both the location name and my car. I was an afterthought. ;-)
If your photograph is to say "she was having a great time", go tight. Fill the frame with your girlfriend's face, 1/2 to 2/3's of the frame. If you have a SLR, open the aperature to f3.5 or more. If you have a point and shoot camera, use the portrait mode (little head thing on the dial). Then to show "you were there !", keeping your girlfriend in the frame, re-adjust your aim so that some significant point of interest is in the background, then shoot. What will happen is that her face will be infront, happy and showing her joy, while the background is out of focus, not distracting us from her face, but still showing enough detail to give us some sense of where she is and why she's so happy. My favourite way to add pizzaz to this type of photo is to be sneaky ;-) and take the photograph when the person isn't aware of what I'm doing. This takes a lot of psychology. Usually I'll just follow along watching, noticing what they're doing. You'll notice that certain things give them pleasure. Then you carefully work out a composition, pick an angle where you can get the right background, get your camera ready, then at just the right moment when she smiles or becomes intensely involved in something....*click* and you've got an all-natural photo of her worth a lifetime of memories !
A few other hints
"Too much space up top !"
My portraiture teacher just about traumatized me with that statement. It's the most common mistake made by amateur photographers. They aim the camera to locate the face in the middle of the frame and leave a huge (1/3rd or more of the frame) at the top. The empty space is neither large enough to be called "whitespace" and is too big to be ignored. Your eye is drawn to it like a magnet, taking away emphasis from the person.
To fix it, simply aim for the person's eye, place the eye level with the top horizon according to the "rule of thirds", zoom in to fill the rest of the frame, then shoot !
Taking pictures of kids
Kids are people too. Get down. Get down on your knees, look them at eye level, then shoot. In my opinion, the only time when it's acceptable to photograph kids from way up is if you want to emphasize how small they are.
I only went down slightly for this. Notice that the camera is not at eye level with the puppeteer, nor with the puppet. This gave a more balanced shot as the emphasis is on both the man and the puppet.
Some cameras allow you to manually fire the flash. You see, on bright sunny days, the camera will automatically expose for the bright light entering the lens, making anyone in the frame seem dark (the personal absorbs some of the light). One way to fix this is simply to manually fire the flash in bright ambient light conditions. It's call "forcing the flash" or "fill flash".