Random links on taking better pictures

I'm always interested in finding simple things you can do to take better pictures. Here are some links I've collected.

One thing I discovered as a tourist is that if you ask a random person to take your picture (because you're traveling alone or because it's a group picture), they will usually gladly oblige, but they will also do a really bad job of framing the photo.

Here's what I want: A head-and-shoulders shot of me with the object of interest.


Usually I'll get this: The photographer has zoomed out because they want to get my whole body (and my sneakers and my backpack that I put on the ground because I don't want it in the picture):

¯ ¯

At least some cropping and zooming can undo that.

Worse is when the photographer tries to fix the problem by taking a few steps back, thereby changing the relative sizes of the object and me.

¯ ¯

When you take a few steps back, I get smaller but the object of interest remains the same size (since it is further away).

I've tried a few things, like taking a sample photo to show what I want. ("Just do this again, but I'll be standing there.") It usually doesn't help. The volunteer photographer will take the picture they want.

I can't really complain, because they were doing me a favor. But I've also learned to set my expectations appropriately and assume that any picture not taken by me will not be framed in a manner I like.

This upcoming Sunday is National Selfie Day, according to some DJ in Texas.

Comments (28)
  1. Brian_EE says:

    They make some pretty portable tripods these days.

  2. anonymouscommenter says:

    Now I'm trying to figure out what the green thing is.  Any ideas?

  3. anonymouscommenter says:

    You could also photograph yourself professionally in front of a greenscreen, making sure you achieve a number of appropriately random poses in changing vacation-wear, shoot the desired background plates on vacation and create the final composites.

  4. anonymouscommenter says:

    >> At least some cropping and zooming can undo that.

    Actually, no, you can't do that. Since you asked someone else to take your picture, it is that someone else who owns all the rights to the picture, not yourself. You have to ask him permission before you alter the picture in any way.

  5. anonymouscommenter says:

    Kevin,   it is one of Microsoft's green pre-fabs


  6. anonymouscommenter says:

    I find a good line for getting people to laugh/smile is "Look as though you're enjoying yourselves". This may not work more than once. Or at all if other people start using it.

    Aside: I'm somewhat surprised to learn that Unicode doesn't have a human figure code point.

  7. anonymouscommenter says:

    My tips for getting better pictures from strangers:

    1.  Ask the stranger with the nicest camera.  They may be a lousy dilettante with lots of money, but they're more likely to be a decent hobbyist than tourists using their phones.

    2.  Right after they take the shot, I'll say something like, "Would you mind taking one more, just of me/us and don't worry about getting $(LANDMARK) in the shot?"  Those often end up having $(LANDMARK) in the shot, but are much closer to what we were after.  Sometimes I'll ask them to switch from portrait to landscape (or vice versa).  Looking at it again in a different orientation often causes them to rethink the composition.

    3.  When the stranger hands the camera back, check the photos.  Regardless of whether the pix are good or bad, thank the person.  If they weren't what you wanted, wait around a minute or two and ask a second stranger.

    Now that we can take a thousand shots on a camera or a phone without worrying about using up film, you can just make it a numbers game.  (Just be sure to edit out all the bad shots before you subject your loved ones to a slide show.)

  8. anonymouscommenter says:

    @Adrian. Your tip #3 is definitely worth noting. One of my friends, when asked to take a picture with a smart phone or other device with cameras on both sides, likes to switch to 'selfie' mode and take a picture of himself with an impish grin. Yes, he is quite the joker indeed.

    And of course the best selfie (imho) is NASA's "pale blue dot" (via command to Voyager 1; No narcisis-stick is long enough for that). Also, I see the word 'selfie' isn't in the dictionary my browser uses to spell check. Such a glaring omission…

  9. anonymouscommenter says:

    @MJP, Unicode only represents things that come out of humans.

    And I mean literally: .

  10. anonymouscommenter says:

    Ok, so my pile of poo was filtered out, automatically (I hope).

    Here is a bigger one: https://codepoints.net/U+1F4A9

  11. ChiefInspectorClouseau says:

    Another tip — a relative of "turn off your flash" — is "turn on your flash."  Brightly-lit outdoor pictures can often be improved by using the camera flash as a fill flash, brightening up and filling in deeply shadowed features, particularly on backlit subjects.  

  12. anonymouscommenter says:




    Yes, their primary use is for restroom signage, but they're there.

  13. anonymouscommenter says:

    @Kevin: It's the Tardis after a dodgy paint job.

  14. anonymouscommenter says:

    @Adrian: I get asked to take people's photos a lot, possibly because it's obvious that I'm serious about taking photos.  However, unlike Raymond's experience, I've found that what people are after is pretty awful cheesy photos of (mostly) themselves and then just enough of the Famous Thing in the background that they can bore people to tears with that and 800 other photos of themselves almost blocking the view of the Famous Things they've visited.  I've tried for some proper composition and whatnot, but been asked to take bland, stuffed-dummy photos instead.  I don't think I've ever had anyone say to me "you look like you know what you're doing, take a good photo of us".

  15. anonymouscommenter says:

    (That was a very condensed form of a 30-page rant, with Table of Contents, Index, and may diagrams).

  16. anonymouscommenter says:

    One more tip. Ask the person if they mind you first taking a photo of them to demonstrate proper cropping/perspective. This way, they may stand where you stood and let the zoom as you have set it. This procedure shouldn't waste much time and yield a better result than spray and pray tactics.

  17. anonymouscommenter says:

    When I'm a tourist, I'm generally happy with whatever photos the other person takes of me, as even a badly-framed photo as you describe is better than one taken at arms length.  I have plenty of arms-length photos from my vacations – and some of them are even very good! – but ones taken by another person holding the camera are generally far better.

  18. Alice Rae says:

    Depending on what the attraction is, I might actually prefer my whole body be in the shot. Gives a nice sense of scale, as opposed to just a headshot with the landmark in the background.

  19. anonymouscommenter says:

    I'm baffled how poorly some people take photos. I recently went on a trip, all photos I took of my friends looks stunning. All photos they took of me looks mediocre, most even missing the object in question. Or, how hard is it to hold out your hand to prevent the sun from blinding the camera? This is basic stuff a child can do. Dont bother with tripods and ISOs if you can't get the basics right.

  20. cheong00 says:

    That's why some many people use "自拍神棍"(selfie stick) when they travel. :P

  21. AlexShalimov says:

    I usually watch photos on widescreen TV, so I always use landscape mode, and when someone is about to take my photo on my phone, I ask them to use it too. But for some reason they ALWAYS use portrait mode, so they end up taking just 1/3 of a screen. I don't know why this happens. People just hate taking photos in landscape mode.

  22. anonymouscommenter says:

    @Dave So I'm not the only one who immediately thought that's a Tardis. I'm mildly relieved.

  23. anonymouscommenter says:

    @Stephan Leclercq Copyright isn't so clear cut. For examples programmers or their employers claim copyright on entire source files, only some of it is actually copyrightable. If nothing was discussed prior to the photo being taken then you would claim you were a co-creator, with the person only taking the role of a tripod and shutter release. If they didn't have access to a copy of the photograph, it would imply they understood they wouldn't have any rights to copy it. i.e. they released their image to the public domain while you retain the copyright of the edited image (although only the actual changes, but if nobody knows what the changes were it would be hard to exploit that). It would also make it pretty much impossible for them to prove that the photo was taken by them and you didn't delete theirs and ask someone else. It would become more complicated if while the person had your camera there was a newsworthy event that they took a photo of, as you had no creative input into this. You would have a bargaining position though as they don't have a legal way of obtaining a copy of the photograph to then make money from, although they might take their chances just running off with your camera. We pretend copyright is simpler than it is to save money on lawyers.

  24. anonymouscommenter says:

    @AlexShalimov When they ask for videos to be sent into tv shows they also have to ask you to use landscape. I guess its because some people are so glued to their phones that their mind is set that this is the way all screens should be. TVs and monitors are landscape because it's optimised for your vision, phones are portrait because of the compromise that you need to hold it in one hand.

    @grumpy You definitely weren't, I thought it was a green Tardis too.

  25. anonymouscommenter says:

    Another option is to leave oneself out of the picture (pun intended). After all, I'm going on vacation to _experience_ new places, as opposed to using Google Image Search to find much better, high-resolution professional photos. And then maybe I'll find an interesting sight to capture and use as wallpaper, but do I really have to be in it? Usually it takes a couple of tries to get me right, even if someone else is interested in taking the photo.

  26. anonymouscommenter says:

    @boogaloo: Copyright is messier than you describe it:

    "it would imply they understood they wouldn't have any rights to copy it. i.e. they released their image to the public domain while you retain the copyright of the edited image"

    Nope.  Releasing things into the public domain is actually really hard, and some jurisdictions don't even permit it.  Copyright is fully automatic under the Berne Convention (you don't need a notice, registration, etc.), so unless the photographer signs something like a CC0 waiver, you're basically out of luck here.

  27. GregM says:

    "Another option is to leave oneself out of the picture (pun intended). After all, I'm going on vacation to _experience_ new places, as opposed to using Google Image Search to find much better, high-resolution professional photos."

    I agree.  My spouse, however, does not, especially when I'm there alone on a business trip.  I get complaints if I come back with no photos with me in it.

  28. anonymouscommenter says:

    I don't get it. If the photographer steps backwards, both object will get smaller, if he doesn't change his angle.

    [But they get smaller at different rates, so the relative sizes of the two objects change. See: Dolly zoom. -Raymond]

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