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Composing people pictures

At the heart of composing good people pictures are a few basic decisions: what picture format to use, where to position the subject within the frame, what other picture elements to include, where to position those elements, and which camera angle is most effective.


Horizontal vs. vertical format
The majority of people pictures are horizontal in format probably because it's easier to hold a camera horizontally. The horizontal format does work best for most group pictures. However, a vertical image can be very effective for pictures ranging from full-length portraits to tight facial close-ups. The unexpectedness of a vertical format can also give an image added impact.



Subject placement
To hold the attention of the viewer, give your pictures a bold and dramatic arrangement. Avoid putting your subject directly in the center of the picture unless you are striving for a formal arrangement in which the subject firmly commands attention.

Rule of thirds: In candid pictures of people, it's often wise to follow the traditional rule of thirds. Imagine a pair of lines dividing the picture into thirds horizontally and a second pair dividing it into thirds vertically. Place the most important visual element—usually the face (or eyes in a close-up)—on one of the points where the lines intersect.

Open space: When a person moves across your camera's field of view, the final image usually has much more impact when the subject is off-center. Leave the open space in the direction in which the subject is headed. Similarly, if a subject is looking off to the side, it's best to leave more space in that direction.



Backgrounds
Indoors or outdoors, a plain background will focus attention on your subject instead of a dozen other things. Indoors, avoid distracting furniture, toys, patterned wallpaper, and bright lamps. Outdoors, don't let tree limbs, utility poles, wires, signs, and other people distract attention from your center of interest.



Point of view
As you compose your picture in the camera viewfinder, think about what you want to include, other than your subject that will make the picture better. Simply changing your point of view can dramatically alter the mood of a picture.

Eye level: Shooting at eye level, either head on or at an angle, is usually best for most people pictures. It's the way we most often look at the world, so it conveys realism. Too low an angle in a close-up exaggerates the size of the nose, mouth, and chin. Too high an angle-often the problem in photographing children and seated subjects-exaggerates the size of the head compared to the rest of the body. When you photograph children, you may need to kneel or even sit on the ground.

High and low angles: At times, however, you'll want to use a different angle to create a certain effect. For example, in a full-length portrait, an eye-level view makes a subject look shorter. A picture taken from a squatting position more accurately indicates height and can lend an aura of authority and power. Even a high angle, which is generally unflattering, can sometimes add drama or eliminate a distracting background.



Close-ups
Close-ups convey a feeling of intimacy and focus attention on your subject.

More distant views tend to emphasize the foreground and include too much that is confusing and distracting to the viewer.

As you look through the viewfinder and move toward your subject to fill the frame, notice how you eliminate things that don't add to the picture. Even though you can crop your picture later if you plan to enlarge it or manipulate it on a computer, it's usually better to crop carefully when you take the picture.