Here’s a scenario. You’re on vacation. There’s this amazing scenery and you want to include yourself in the picture with your family. You have two choices:

  1. Unlock your tripod. Set it up. Set up your camera. Initiate the timer. Wait until it snaps. Then pray that everyone looked at the camera.
    OR
  2. Give it to a stranger. Then pray it comes out right.

Inevitably, 95% of the time, since I hate carrying a tripod on vacation, I give it to a stranger. They snap the picture. I thank them, then review it – it’s horrible. So then I do one of two things:

  1. Educate the stranger on how to improve the picture.
    OR
  2. Thank them and move on.

60% of the time I move on. Why? Because its missing the most crucial ingredients of a successful picture. And I’m on vacation, so I move on. But if I did have the time, what would I have told them? Here’s what I would have said.

Tip 1 : Decide the Star of Your Picture

For every picture that you take, decide who or what is the “star” of your picture? In other words, what is the focus of your picture? In family photography, it inevitably comes down to two categories: scenery (landscape) or people (portrait). That’s it. You can’t have both. You must choose one.

Is the scenery the primary purpose of your picture? Or is it the people (or person)? One must be primary, the other a secondary objective.

Here’s an example of an ambiguous picture.

Is this picture about the scenery or the person?

Is this picture about the scenery or the person?

You’ll often get something like this when you give your camera to a stranger and tell them to ‘press here to take the picture’. They won’t zoom the lens or move around to frame the picture. They point the camera exactly toward the owner of the camera, center it and snap.

So what’s missing here? The star. Is the star of this picture the giant Olympic logo sculpture behind Kaitlyn? Doesn’t feel like it. Half of it is cropped and any person looking at this picture will likely not know what it is.

Next, is the star of this picture Kaitlyn? You might be tempted to say yes, but she’s actually not. So much of the background competes for your attention that you spend more time wandering your eye than really focusing on Kaitlyn. Ultimately you cannot tell which is the primary star, and which is the secondary star. In fact, I personally feel THERE IS NO STAR here.

Scenery is the Star

But let’s say you did decide the giant Olympic logo is the star, here’s one example of how you might frame the picture.

The Olympic logo sculpture (scenery) is the star of this picture. Kaitlyn is secondary.

The Olympic logo sculpture (scenery) is the star of this picture. Kaitlyn is secondary.

Kaitlyn does not compete for your attention. The first thing you really focus on is the sculpture. Then you look at Kaitlyn – and the message in your mind is – Kaitlyn was at the Olympic village at Whistler Canada.

Person is the Star

But what if Kaitlyn should be the star of the picture, and the Olympic logo secondary, if even at all?

Kaitlyn is the star of this picture and the unique curves of the sculpture make a great secondary interest.

Kaitlyn is the star of this picture and the unique curves of the sculpture make a great secondary interest.

Now the picture above can be improved further by making the background out of focus. This will put a “spotlight” and really force your eye toward Kaitlyn. But I’ll save that for when I write on the topic of bokeh.

>> NEXT TIP: HOW TO COMPOSE AWESOME PICTURES <<