There’s a mistake I see people make all the time. It can happen anytime, but I mostly see it when people take vacation photos. They see a picturesque scene or landmark, usually something huge like the Empire State Building, Mount Rushmore or the Eiffel Tower. Then they tell their loved one/traveling companion to stand in front of said monument to be in the photo. They dutifully stand at the base of said building/statue/etc and the person taking the picture steps back to get the entire landmark in the frame. The problem is that the person in the photo now be comes only a tiny part of the scene. They’re miniscule, sometimes to the point of being almost invisible. Of course the picture taker could get closer to the person, but then he or she might not be able to get the entire landmark in the photo.
The solution is to get back far enough to get all of the landmark in view but then have your subject stand closer to you. This brings them nearer to the camera and bigger in the frame. You’ll shoot them from about the waist up or so, but unless your Aunt Martha’s shoes are important to the picture, it’s not going to matter (and if your aunt’s shoes are picture-worthy you can just get a separate shot of them). This method may make them look as large or larger than the landmark (a technique called forced perspective) but I think most people viewing the photo will get that the person in the picture is just close to the camera.
My daughter is going to be a senior in high school this fall, and last December I took her to one of those college informational seminars at the Marriott Hotel in San Francisco. Afterward we did a little sightseeing around Union Square. Macy’s had erected a large Christmas tree that stood about 40 feet tall. She stood in front of the tree for a photo, but when I got back to get the entire tree in the frame, I had to squint to see her in the picture. Getting up closer to her solved that problem but then I cut off the top of the tree. I got back to where I originally stood and had her stand about 3 to 4 feet away from me. The tree was in the frame, and she was prominent in the picture, too. There was the added benefit of her blocking out some of the other tourists posing for their photos, too.
Recently I shot a portrait of Bear Creek High senior Emily Roberts for our “10 Questions” feature. She is heading off to UCLA in the fall. She wore a UCLA sweatshirt, which represented where she was going, so I looked for something that said where she was from. On the side of the school’s gym in big bold letters were the words “Home of the Bruins” at the top. If I stood her at the base of the building and got back to see the words on the building, then she’d be almost too small to read the letters on her shirt. I just had her stand about 4 to 5 feet away and was able to get her (from the waist up) and the words on the building in the same shot.
Most people think out elements in a photo as either being near or far. But to get a landmark in the background and your subject to both be prominent in your picture, you have to change that concept to being both near and far.
One thing I failed to mention in my column and that is to make sure of your focus. It’s a common thing to overlook but you should focus on the subject of your photos. The camera/lens’s depth of field should be enough to carry the background but if the background is a little fuzzy that’s better than having your subject out of focus. If you have a DSLR camera just focus on your subject then if you need to recompose to where you want it to be. If you have a point and shoot then most of those types of cameras focus when you hold the shutter button halfway down. Do that on your subject, recompose, then push the button all the way down to take the picture.