Whether it’s a child who fell asleep in his plate or hopping on his first bike, or a master petting his dog, it’s never just a question of saying the time is right, take the picture now. Once the subject is chosen, it must be the star of the picture. Its place in the picture will have to be, if not the most important one, at the right place to emphasize it.
And the right place is not necessarily always dead centre in the frame which conveys a static impression, it’s important to explore around the centre.
A simple rule, present in painting as well as in photography, separates the space in 9 “equal” spaces with two vertical and two horizontal lines. The rule of thirds as it is called gives you points of interest where the lines intersect and that's where you'll want your main subject to be. This simple rule can also be used to balance your picture and is always worthy to keep in mind.
It is good to start with the subject centered to focus on it by pressing halfway the shutter release button. It is then possible to recompose the shot with the focus being locked on the subject who can now be anywhere in the scene.
These days though, many compact cameras will automatically detect faces and focus on them wherever they may be in the frame.
Natural light or flash?
If a bright spot in someone’s face is not the best way to use a flash, it can nonetheless be a useful tool. Many professionals make extensive use of the flash as it can often prove itself essential for a fill-in. In sand, snow or with the camera facing the sun, the sensor can be fooled by all the surrounding light causing the subject to appear dark in the picture when it's not lightened up with the complementary light of the flash.
In the case of an indoor portrait, if you don’t have a separate, multidirectional flash, stay a few meters away from your subject (use the zoom if needed) and turn on all the lights in the room. If the flash is still too strong, attach a light diffuser on it (a pantyhose could do the trick) so that it doesn't turn your subject's face into a white ghost.
Always be at eye level with your subject, climb up for a tall one, crouch for a small one, always keep eye contact and see the world from your subject’s perspective.
Pictures are often taken to help remember special moments or events. It can be exciting to go the extra distance and do more than a snapshot. Read the thousand words in the scene and make the picture scream them aloud. You won’t regret the extra effort when you look back at them.