Snapshot rules

Even when you take a simple snapshot, as a photographer you should think about how to do it. Almost subconsciously, I apply the same rules and the same thinking to a snapshot that I do to a photo I am paid for.

So I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss some of that thinking. In that context, here is a snapshot I took the other day of a friend:

Michael's friend Ninon, shot with a wide angle lens

Michael's friend Ninon, shot with a wide angle lens

In the second or two before I take that snap, what is some of my thinking, and what are some of the decisions I make?

  • Subject: What is this a photo of? (it is a happy snap, so “camera-aware” and a smile are just great). Check.
  • Light: Where is the light coming from? In this case it is from her front, indirect reflected light, i.e. nice flattering light. Check.
  • Lens choice: I want to use a wide angle lens here because this is a situational portrait, a city woman in her city. Wide angle lenses put a subject in context. I want a wide angle lens also because it creates those nice diagonals that converge on the subject, can you see them? Finally, I also want wide angle to show depth in the photo (a technique knows as “close-far”).
  • Depth of field: I want to draw attention to my subject by blurring the background, so I use Aperture mode (A/Av) with an aperture of f/2.8. Wide angle lenses are sharp all over, but by using a fast one (f/2.8) and by getting close I can still blur the background dramatically.
  • Composition: I am using the rule of thirds. “Uncle Fred” puts the subject in all his images smack bang in the middle: I use off-centre composition. In this case the centre of attention (her face) is one third from the right, one third from the top. And she is looking into the picture, not out of it.
  • Moment: you need to capture the right moment. I shot four times and by photo number four, her smile was best. Shoot a lot, even in a portrait. so you capture just the right moment. I also thought the right moment included the “suits” in the background. After all, King and Wellington, downtown Toronto, means suits out for (if not out to) lunch. So I was delighted to see them approach and took the four shots just as they passed behind her.

That is, in a nutshell, what I thought in the seconds leading up to this picture.

That is my thinking. Yours may have been different, and that is of course perfectly OK. There is not one good picture: there are 100 billion. The essence here is not what my conclusions were, but the fact that I was thinking at all, instead of just blindly snapping.

Light, moment and composition/subject, that is what makes up a picture. So think of those every time you take one, and your pictures will get better.

0 thoughts on “Snapshot rules

  1. Great shot!
    To me this photo tells a story, you have the suits then further back you have blue collar worker in the truck both are blurred . Uncle Fred would blocked the suits and then people would ask “why is this women happy at possibly a contraction site with a truck in the background? That’s what I see in your snapshot.

    Great Lesson.

  2. Thanks for this discussion. I notice very little of your thinking includes camera specific items.

    I usually think about edges. Where should the edges of the photo be? If there is something in the edge of the photo (often in the foreground) that should be fully included or shouldn’t be included at all, I’ll move or change the zoom. Also, I think about how high I should be holding the camera. For me, that’s low or even lower! Because high usually isn’t an option for me.

    I realize both are part of composition but that’s as much as I can think about most shots.

    Lately, I’ve been able to add a third thought about lining up subjects, similar to the line you created from the truck through the “suits” to your friend. That’s just an extension of my thought about how high to hold the camera.

  3. Indeed. It’s not about the camera – though you will notice that lenses and flashes do figure prominently in my thinking.

    Edges: cut what you like but avoid “tension points”- cutting of right at the end of an item. I’ll blog about that soon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *