Way back in my freshman year of college I had a typography teacher, Tom, who had a running joke with the photo teacher about how Tom hated photography. He treated photography with no respect. I found this a bit extreme so one day I brought up the subject with Tom. It turned out he really did like photography. And he hated it. More precisely he hated that fact that cameras were so easy to operate, this was 1984, that everyone who had one thought they were a photographer. After being forced to endure endless piles of bad snapshots from friends and acquaintances he just couldn’t take it anymore. It was an offense to his senses.

Tom’s solution was to start saying he dislikes photography in general. He took this tact because of its blanket immunity. You see, if you tell someone their snapshots are boring and badly taken they get insulted. Plus they get mad at you for your “rudeness”. After all, they’ve got a camera and think they’re photographers.

Tell a person their cooking isn’t very good and they will usually admit that they are not much of a cook. People know cooking takes practice and skill. Tell someone that their quadratic equations are bad and they’ll tell you that they’re not a mathematician. But everyone with a camera thinks they’re a photographer. And can be oblivious to the fact they aren’t. These are the same people who see the photos of a photographer who has some skill and say, “You have a really good camera”. In many peoples’ minds it’s the camera that takes the picture and not the person behind the camera.

Enter the age of digital photography. I see more digital cameras around than I ever did film cameras. No film to load, buy, or process so you can get instant results. People love instant gratification. But unlike almost all snapshots taken with film most digital pictures only exist on computer screens. With film getting snapshots printed was part of the developing process. With digital it’s an extra step. So how do you to show people your digital snapshots? With photo sharing services such as Flickr.com.

A photo sharing service is a web site that lets you upload your photos to their servers and invite friends, family, and even strangers to come view them. Not a bad thing in and of itself but now everyone with a digital camera invites you to go see their photos online. Their uncropped, unedited, untouched-up, snapshots. They’re as painful to look at as as pile of film snapshots. Here are a few of the usual suspects:

Peoples’ heads in the middle of the photo instead of at the top. These are by people who really don’t know what they’re doing. This is the first thing you learn. There is a lot of bad composition in snapshots and this is where it starts.

The “snapshot lean”. Most cameras have pretty wide lenses these days but a lot people don’t know that so when asked to pose for a photo they lean in to the person next to them. People stacked like teepee poles. The photographer has to tell them to straighten up. Not always easy task for the casual photographer though. I too have plenty of teepee people but I edit them out.

Bad composition is the most common thing in mediocre snapshots. I could go on and on about it. But I’ll spare you.

Pictures taken two seconds apart posted right next to each other. Edit one out. We don’t need nearly identical pictures except someone’s head is turned three degrees in the second one. Pick the best one and go with it.

Every picture taken from the exact same angle. Camera at head level from about six to eight feet away. Mix it up. Drop to a knee and then take the picture. Shoot from waist level. Shot from ground level. Shoot from over head. Anything would be a change from big headed, little legged, barrel distorted people.

I could ramble on even more about the faults I find but instead here are a few simple tips.

Only post two out of three of your pictures. This will teach you to look at them closer and edit out the mediocre ones.

I do find it odd that the first thing everyone brags about is how many megapixels their camera has and then they are perfectly happy posting the pics on a site that uses a tiny fraction of those pixels. So anyway: crop. Everybody’s camera has at least three megapixels and most sites only post them at about half a megapixel so try using the cropping tool to create a better composition.

And when you crop use whatever aspect ratio you want. Don’t stick with what the camera gives you. If you think it looks better as a tall skinny photo then make it so. Free yourself from the HD and SD aspect ratios. Play around. Make your own “panoramas” just by cropping out the top and bottom. You have plenty of pixels. Get rid of some.

Anyway, hardly anyone will listen to these tips because most people just want their pictures to be easy. Not win awards. Doing nothing but uploading unedited photos is the easy thing.

I know, you’re saying, “Simple solution. If somebody send you a link to their photos just don’t look at ’em”. That’s solid advice and I usually follow it. But then sometimes people what to discuss their photos and know where mine are posted (nowhere, I hate the usability of these sites, but that’s another rant) so occasionally I gotta look. But if I don’t please do not get insulted. I don’t get insulted when you don’t want to hear my bad singing.