When photographing our friends and family (even with your phone), there are some simple rules that you can follow to help make your photos stand out.
1 – Don’t Let Thing’s “Grow” from People
One of the more common mistakes I see in photographs of people are objects like telephone poles or trees “growing” out of people heads. Being aware of your background is crucial to any photograph, ones of your friends or family are not exempt from this rule. When taking pictures of people we often get lost in trying to get everybody in the shot, ignoring the background entirely. Now that you are looking at your background, try and find a placement that a tree looks like it is taking root in the ground rather than your friends head.
2 – Try Indirect Lighting
Sunlight can appear very harsh in a portrait, especially if there are heavy shadows in your image. Try placing your subject(s) under a tree or an awning. This will help even out the lighting on your subject and depending on how bright the scene behind you (the photographer) you may even have a catch light in the eye. If you photograph closer to sunrise or sunset during the time known as the golden hour, the difference from light to shadow is less intense.
3 – Avoid Having Your Subject Looking Into the Sun
As an instinct, I think people generally want to put a whole bunch of light on their subject. Having everyone in your shot squinting into the sun doesn’t result in a good image, nor is it a pleasant experience for you subjects. If possible, try the above step, but if you are in a wide open area and can’t get to cover to help diffuse the light, try turning your subject to the side a bit. Both your image and your subject will be better off for it!
4 – Make Sure Your Subject Doesn’t Get Lost in the Scene
Unless you are trying to capture the grandeur of a landscape with your subject included in the scene, move in on your him/her and eliminate a lot of the background. Having a person or even a few floating in the middle of the frame isn’t doing anyone any favors.
5 – Shoot for People’s Personality
In a portrait you are photographing a person not an inanimate object, make sure your image reflects that. Rather than starchy poses and unnatural body positions, let your subjects be themselves in your images. Of course if you are trying to achieve a formal portrait of your family, this might not be the best advice to follow, but otherwise let the people in your image show who they are. Not only will they be more willing to stand in front of your camera more often, but the images will evoke more memories of the way people are rather than just what they look like.