With the approach of the holiday season I feel that I must warn you about the infamous FFTC (Friends and family toting cameras). The FFTC seem to appear at all family gatherings like moths drawn to a flame, and their work can be as destructive to one's sense of well being and reputation.
What am I talking about? Pictures, of course—but not just any picture. Consider the following examples.
- Pictures taken in low light without the flash. Many cameras now have various scenes or modes that allow for low light pictures. When the exposure becomes too long, and the camera is not completely held rock steady, the image “smears.” These smears then distort facial features making ones nose appear as long as a broom stick, or transforming your hair into something that would make Marge Simpson green with envy.
- Pictures taken at the “worst possible moment.” It goes without saying that people often eat at family gatherings. Part of eating, is taking bites out of and chewing food. But when one is in the process of ruminating, their facial features are often distorted into some hideous caricature of ones former self. Political photographers use this technique to their advantage to destroy ones opponent—clearly no one wants to vote for such a sinister individual. But WHY do we do it to our friends and loved ones?
- Pictures taken from the “worst possible angle.” General MacArthur required all photographers to take pictures from a low angle. Why? Because it made him seem taller and more commanding. Like the person viewing the picture is “looking up to him.” I am not saying we want all of the FFTC to shoot from a lower angle, but certainly pictures taken from a side view angle that would make twiggy seem fat should be avoided. Indeed one should always be respectful with the camera angle. If you have a friend or loved one who is losing a bit of hair on the top side, try not to feature it by using a top-down shot, unless, of course, that friend or loved one is actually proud that they have achieved the sort of maturity that typically goes along with vanishing hair.
- Watch out for physical body distortions such as arms that seem to stretch into infinity due to their proximity to the camera lens, or heads that could ride upon Macys Thanksgiving Day floats. One should always check the angle of the camera back plane when taking pictures.
- Speaking of checking the angle of the back plane, most digital cameras have a preview window you should always check before you shoot. Look especially for things like lamps growing out of peoples heads, and plants that replace body parts. Remember you are taking a three dimensional object and turning it into a two dimensional object. The lost dimension is that of perspective.
Why is it important to watch out for the FFTC? Because with all the online services, such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Myspace, and Windows Live Spaces, a picture can go from a phone to being viewed by a million people in less than 60 seconds. Your reputation can vanish with similar speed…
In the Old West, it was common to require the cowboys (at least according to the John Wayne movies – and we all know those are historically accurate) to check their guns at the door. In modern times, professional performers have a similar edict. The reason the music groups ban cameras from their performances is not because they want to sell pictures of the group, nor is it because they are concerned with the bright lights, I am convinced it is because they do not want a bunch of bad pictures showing up on the Internet that portray them in an unflattering light.
Of course most families in the United States get together so seldom, that banning cameras from family gatherings would be cruel, short sighted, and in the end unenforceable. So rather than ban cameras, maybe you can at least attempt to improve their use. Use my top five guide as a starting point or, better yet, check out Microsoft's guide to better holiday pictures. It is not that we do not like getting our picture taken; it really is that we do not like bad pictures getting taken.
Take care, and have a wonderful holiday.