How to Take Good Photos of your Friends
A quick, 7-step guide
Ever since my teenage years I’ve been frustrated at the fact that no friend of mine was ever capable of taking a decent photo of me. Even when I placed them in the perfect spot, adjusted the angle, showed them how to focus and everything looked perfect before I took my pose, the photo would still magically come out a disaster!
I, on the other hand, was always the designated photographer. I was known for jumping hoops to capture the perfect shot: I’d move around, drop on the floor, stand on benches, direct them, wait for the wind to subside and find the best lighting. And what was my reward? I was left out of most group photos and, from my profile pics, it looked like I was friendless.
With the advancements in technology our phones are making it easier and easier for us to take beautiful photos (have you SEEN the portrait mode on the new iPhones? Insane, right?)
They take care of the focus, recognise distance and blur the background as appropriate, adjust the white balance and overcome brightness inconsistencies with the HDR mode. All we have to do is point it at the person or object we want to capture and *click*. Simple, right? So where does it all go wrong?
Well, unfortunately, it takes more than smart equipment to take captivating photos.
1. ANGLE IS EVERYTHING
The most flattering angle for ABSOLUTELY everyone is taking the photo from slightly above eye-level. It makes us all look nice and thin and hides those double chins. That is not to say, however, that you cannot achieve some very creative results by shooting from a weird angle (i.e. way below or way above), but that will depend on the story you’re trying to tell.
2. FIND THE LIGHTING
Ideally, the light should be directed at the person’s face, but that’s not always possible. If you’re outdoors at an inconvenient time of day and the landmark your friend wants to pose in front of is on the wrong side of the sun (yes, I stand by that phrasing), don’t take the shot anyway, even if you can’t see the person’s face or all you can see are those harsh shadows that make them look 20 years older.
This might be one of those times that you have to get creative with your angles; go for a dramatic portrait that casts a shadow on one side of their face or shoot from way below and have your subject look up. That way it looks intentional and it can make for a pretty powerful shot.
Here’s are two photos of my friend Miguel at the National History museum in London. In order to overcome the lighting situation going on in the first photo AND keeping the museum in the background was to adjust the angle.
3. COMPOSITION & THE RULE OF THIRDS
To put it simply, composition is what distinguishes yet another photo on your phone that you don’t even bother backing up from one that you upload on social media.
Have a look at the photo I took of my mom at the Cliffs of Moher on our trip to Ireland, and then compare it with the picture she took of me, at the same location, from the exact same spot, with the exact same equipment and weather conditions. Now, this picture was taken with a DSLR with a rotatable screen that allows you to angle it the way you want, and yet you can’t see the cliffs, there’s too much space above my head, and I look clearly pissed off because I’m onto her.
Which brings me to my next point:
· Rule of thirds
Don’t center your subject bang in the middle of the frame. That’s pretty much all of my pictures from high school. Congrats, classmate, you can picture a grid; now, how about you use it to take an interesting photo? Imagine the frame equally divided by three vertical and two horizontal lines, and place your subject as close to those lines as you can. An off-center composition looks more interesting and natural, plus you can fit all that beautiful view in that frame (ahem, mom), making perfect use of that negative space and preventing your bestie’s portrait at the Parthenon from looking like a mugshot in front of a creative backdrop; hurrah!
4. DIRECT YOUR MODEL
If your friend on the other side of the camera is blocking the beautiful view that made them ask you for a photo to begin with, you may want to tell them to move a little (if you can’t move yourself), so both their divine beauty and that of the landscape can be captured. Equally, if their hair or posture looks funny, TELL THEM! They can’t see it themselves. Plus, you’re doing yourself a favour, since we both know you’ll end up taking another photo if they don’t like this one…
5. GET CLOSER
Unless the thing you’re photographing is their outfit, there’s no reason to fit all of the person in the shot. Instead, it’s better to try and capture a bit of the person’s character and magic of the moment. That makes for far better memories.
6. MAKE IT A CANDID ONE
Tell them a (dirty) joke before you snap; you’ll get a more natural reaction than that forced smile we’ve all rehearsed a million times in front of the mirror but can never seem to get right. Candid shots are the best shots. True story.
7. ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
Look at the photo you’ve just taken. Don’t just hand the phone/camera back to its owner without first checking that you’ve taken a decent shot. The model could have moved or closed their eyes, or the photo may be overexposed or blurry (cos you just couldn’t wait to be done with this and go get some delicious pizza, so you moved before the shot was done processing; sounds like you, doesn’t it? That pizza can wait. Be a good friend!)
If you’ve stuck with me this far, I’m confident that my tips have made you a much better photographer (albeit one that is about to be left out of a whole lot of group photos) - and so I set you free!
If you haven’t, we may have gone to school together…