While there are occasional good artistic reasons for shooting at wide angles and great distances from your subject, closer is nearly always better. There are megazillions of snapshots of friends and family where the faces are too small to identify. The same is true of pet photos, travel photos of street scenes and other types.
It is a common new-shooter understanding that the photo has to capture the whole enchilada: a person has to be shown head to foot, or the entire scene has to be captured. It takes a little experience and a little confidence to eliminate parts and focus on other parts when you’re framing a shot.
We’ll talk about what to do, and how to do it.
Decide what the objective of the photo is. If you’re capturing a friend’s face or a new hairstyle, forget the feet and just aim at the head. If the point is to show a new pair of shoes, either shoot just the shoes, or have the person curl up in a small space on the floor so the face and feet are as close together as possible. The same applies to photos of wedding rings, tattoos, etc. Focus on the focus of the photo.
Let’s say you’re walking in a strange city on vacation and see a couple of cats that decide to keep a close eye on you. The point of the photo would be to show the cats and their expressions, and not to show the entire space they occupy. The image to the right shows a comparison of the two concepts. The wider image shows a complete back yard and, just barely, the two cats. The tighter image brings the cats into a starring role. The wider photo is just visual noise. The tighter photo tells a story.
With the camera
Move your body closer. Don’t ask, “Do I have everything in the photo?” Instead, ask, “Can I get closer yet?” Distance shooting is lazy shooting (unless there is some other artistic reason to go long). You can also zoom in, but walking is generally better. Zooming, especially on a small camera or a phone, will introduce optical noise and graininess in the photo. You might not notice it on a smart phone screen, but try printing it – we’re talking serious yuck. Still, when it’s the only choice, go for the zoom (and hold the camera very steady, or brace it on something).
With the computer
In a word, “cropping.” Bring that photo up on the screen and start snipping (but save the original in an unaltered state). Crop and crop until you’ve gone too far, and then back off. If you haven’t gone too far, then you haven’t gone far enough. You’ll be surprised how much good cropping will improve a photo. Of course, lots of cropping will limit the useful size of an enlarged print. Don’t take an 8 megapixel camera image, crop 3/4 of it away and expect to enlarge it to 24x30. If you want a big print, get the image right in the camera.