Do not let your waitress take your group photo!

My sister and me at schoolSee those cute kids? As you can no doubt tell, that’s my sister Sandy and me in front of Charles Lindbergh Elementary School in Dearborn, Michigan. I believe the occasion was my first day of elementary school in September of 1962. Photo courtesy of my loving, well-meaning father.

Honestly, could that photo be any worse? You can’t see Sandy. You can’t see me. You can barely even see the school! Why did my dad find it necessary to stand so far away from us? Did we smell bad? Was he permanently banned from the campus? (No to both questions.)

And this is why you should never let your waitress take your picture. Just about every time we go to take a picture of a group in a restaurant, a kind waitress will come by and offer to shoot the photo right as we’re lining everybody up in a selfie. In the past, we’ve handed over the camera to the nice waitress and smiled for the camera. She steps WAY back and snaps a couple of photos.  Just about every time, though, the results have been mediocre, and it’s usually because two simple rules have been broken.

Honestly, we should have just taken the selfie.

Listen, I’m not a professional photographer. But I have taken a couple of classes and read some articles and I have learned two simple rules about photography:

  • Rule one: Fill up the frame with your subject.
  • Rule two: Follow the rule of thirds.

And there’s maybe one more rule:

  • Rule three: Lighting matters

These rules are not complex. Just a few words about each:

FILL UP THE FRAME WITH YOUR SUBJECT

The biggest mistake your waitress makes is simply that she stands too far back. She thinks she has to do that to get everybody in the picture, but she really gets WAY too far back. For one thing, you don’t need to see everybody from head to toe. You’re interested in seeing their faces, not their shoes. So leave their shoes out. You’re interested in seeing the people, not the restaurant decor (usually), so get close. Get right up there and fill the frame with everybody’s faces. Don’t forget to make sure everybody’s there, but get everybody into the frame and stop backing up right there. How about an example?

I noticed a pretty bouquet on the coffee table near my comfy chair and thought it would make a nice picture. Can you see it there right in the middle of the frame (more on the rule of thirds later)? It looks so … small and hard to find. Kind of like my sister and me in front of our school. Let’s try that one again:

Oh, that’s better! Now I can see the flowers and just a bit of background. It’s obvious what the subject of the picture is and I can see it in detail. I got up close and filled my frame with it and I rather like the result.

FOLLOW THE RULE OF THIRDS

Pictures are more aesthetically pleasing when the subject isn’t right in the middle of the frame. For example, here’s another flower vase by my comfy chair:

This picture is okay, I guess, but it’s just missing something. Top Scientists tell us it’s because this picture violates the Rule of Thirds, which is defined by Wikipedia thusly: “The guideline proposes that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.”

In other words, put your subject a third of the way from the left or right and/or a third of the way from the top or the bottom. Easy as can be.

Let’s see how that last photo looks with I follow the rule of thirds:

Much more visually pleasing. This is another photo I like.

This rule is so important that your camera makes it easy to follow! On iOS, Apple has provided a “Grid” setting in the Camera preferences:

It couldn’t be easier:

Turn it on and you’ll be taking beautiful photos in no time.

And now for the last rule:

LIGHTING MATTERS

Lighting matters. Look at how your subject is illuminated. Take pictures when the sun is low in the sky whenever possible. Pose people in front of a window. Or just keep looking for beautifully illuminated subjects. Here’s one of my personal favorites:

So fill up that frame. Get that subject off-center. And use light to make things look interesting. Go forth and take beautiful images.

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