Feeling like you’re always the photographer and never the photographed? I wouldn’t consider myself a particularly vain person, but if I’m going to take some nice photos of my friends, I’d at least like to have a few good ones of myself. If you’re tired of seeing yourself at the center of mediocre photos that could have easily turned out much better, pay attention. I’m going to show you how to teach your friends to take a decent photo.
Step 1. Find the right friend
Not everybody has the patience or the willingness to learn photography. The right friend is someone who has already expressed some curiosity about photography. You want people who aren’t just going to grab your camera and fire off a few quick snapshots. The right friend is incredibly patient. This person understands that good photography is work, and it’s going to take more than a few shots to get the photo you want.
The right friend should ideally be another photographer, but not all of us have that luxury. The next best option is someone who is technically minded and patient enough to understand your instructions.
Step 2. Do all the setup work
Most new photographers need a little nudge in the right direction. You can’t just hand your camera over to your friend and expect to get the photo you have in mind. You have to show your friend what you’re looking for, and that means taking the time to source some reference materials or take a quick reference shot.
Composition seems to be the most difficult concept to get across. Most people are happy enough taking a picture with the subject smack dab in the center. To get people to stop doing that, I take a photo of them that’s composed the way I want. Then I show it to them, and I tell them to try and create the same kind of composition. It helps to explain things like the rule of thirds, but nothing is better than a simple visual of what you actually want.
You’ll also need to remove the other variables that can often get in the way. If you’re shooting in manual mode, make sure you’ve already picked the right shutter speed, aperture, and ISO speed before your friend takes the picture. If your friend is shooting action, make sure you take a little time to explain that you have to use autofocus to focus on a spot, and then switch to manual focus so the camera doesn’t attempt to focus when you really want it to keep taking a continuous stream of pictures (a.k.a. pre-focusing). The less your friend has to figure out, the better.
Step 3. Be patient and review often
Every good teacher knows that patience is a virtue. Your friend might not understand what needs to be done the first time around. You might leave the session with nothing but duds. I’m saying this so you don’t get frustrated and harm your friendship. It’s going to take time to get what you want. Don’t get mad about it. Just make it your goal to improve your own self portraits.
I usually include some kind of review session during these shoots. I’ll take a few photos of my friend, then have my friend take some photos of me, and we’ll compare notes. If we have the time to take another round of photos, we’ll do that. The second round is usually a lot better than the first. You can’t expect people to know all of the pitfalls in photography unless you point out each one.
If you really want a nice professional photo of yourself, you might want to avoid all of the frustration and just hire a photographer. I know that sounds a little counterintuitive, especially after you just purchased that new digital SLR, but what better way to branch out and learn from a pro? Try to find someone who has done something close to what you’re looking for, and go from there. Not only will you have the pictures you’ve always wanted, you’ll probably find a new friend or mentor.
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