What's the difference between a photograph and a snapshot? We could start an endless debate on that one because there are no concrete rules to either that are exclusive. Many of the great portrait artists disdain smiles-- "smile for the camera," mom always said because she hates to see unhappy children. After years of having that drilled into our heads we automatically smile as gamely as we can whenever a lens is pointed at us. Face the camera is another rule we somehow learned. As a result the world has produced an almost infinite number of images of people chest towards the camera glaring it down. A whole set of conventions have worked their way into the social norm that characterize the snapshot, making it a cliché.
It's almost inevitable that when someone hands you their camera and asks you to take their picture that they'll stand facing the camera smiling as hard as they can, displaying all of the hallmarks of the "snapshot." That look is then copied to a hundred different locations in eerily similar poses. But you're a photographer, right? You want to create something memorable. All of the conventions of polite society are screaming at you to just simply press the damn shutter, but you need to make it better. To make it something they will cherish. Here's a few tips on how:
- Take the darn picture they asked for. Exactly as they asked for it. Then:
- Take another.
- Move. Most likely they'll keep their feet planted and turn their head to follow you.
- Crouch down. Polite convention dictates that you raise the camera up to your eye, but you know darn well that it should be at the mid point between the top and the bottom of the frame. If it is a "waist up" shot, the camera should be at upper chest level. Move it there.
- Give them direction: "Alright everybody look left! You on the end-- put your hand on your hip." When they handed you the camera they turned over control of the situation, and you can keep it for a couple of shots. They're having fun. Be a photographer. Change perspectives, create angles, if they wanted an environmental group portrait zoom in for a close-up; or vice versa.