Distractions in Photographs

I have a little theory about people that has developed after photographing them for years and years.

People do not naturally look presentable.

They seem like they are fine, but if you look carefully you will see distracting things all over the place.

With a bit of attention, anyone can look nice, but usually there are problems which will make the photo look laughable afterwards.

A photographer must be patient, like a hunter.


There is a small group sitting on the picnic table, and they look quite set up for a shot, even though it just happened by accident. So you say Wow! and click a few shots off. But oops; you did not notice the lady at the end rummaging through her purse. Gah! If you had waited fifteen seconds or so, she would have stopped Faffing about in it and put it away, and then the picture would be acceptable.

The Bride and her two sisters are standing prettily on the lawn; great! Bang, snap, click.

But oh no! Some bald uncle was Herp Derping around in the background! Wait for him to leave or get him the heck out of there!

In any scene, even before you realize a shot could be there, there will be Faff and Derp going on, which needs to stop before the photo can be taken.

You realize of course that this attitude is coming from behind the lens. People are not intentionally doing distracting things to ruin your nice photo; they are just walking around doing their thing.

If there are enough people in the same shot, then the moment when their Faff will stop simultaneously can be vanishingly small. Someone will inevitably be scratching their cheek, fixing their hair, pulling an odd face, fiddling with their buttons, putting their hands in front of other peoples faces, etc…

A photographer must wait patiently, or command attention from them to get a good shot. Sometimes you only need to hit the shutter one quarter of a second later, and the hand will have moved and then you can see the faces properly.

Examples of Faff:

Gramma blowing her nose.

A kid facing a very wrong direction.

Bangs falling in her eyes and obscuring them.

And then having her hand blocking her face as she moves her hair into a better position.

During a dance show, for example, Faff will occur in almost every second, but then disappear for short moments. There will always be an arm in front of a face, or a head tilted down so you can only see the top of their head. The theory of Faff is based on a more fundamental and simpler theory; “People like to see people’s faces.” So anything blocking a face, or having a sour face, in a photo is “not so good” as the layman would say. It goes even further! People also want to see eyes! Sunglasses are cool and all, but generally we want to see the whites of peoples eyes. And once you start looking, it is amazing how many ways a person will hide them. Merely looking down at the script they are reading or turning their head a little to one side will hide their eyes. You have to be quick and patient and wait to hit the shutter. During the dance show, there are several people moving all at once; the best shots will be where faces are not obstructed, and where whites of eyes can be seen.

More examples of Faff:

One person looking over her shoulder at something while everyone is turned nicely at you.

Any kid with a finger in a mouth, nose, ear etc…

A musician who happens to be holding their guitar neck in front of the drummer’s face. This is unintentional, but faff nonetheless.

A large bus that happens to be slowly moving through the background of the shot.

Faff might even be some clouds that need to move on a bit to get in or out of shot.

Faff can also be something as innocuous as a pole or tree in the background, which looks like it is coming out of the top of a person’s head. So take a step to the right, photographer, and fix it.

In the photo above everyone in the shot looks great! except for the kid on the right who looks like he doesn’t want to be there.

And the two Derpers in the back! (My fault… I should have waited a moment.)

Engagement photo bomb with Herp Derpington in the background.

Basically, Faff is a distracting or uneven element in a photograph that needs to be directed to stop (or start), or if not possible, simply waited for until it stops or gets into the right position.

Herp Derp is a similarly distracting element in a photo, but the photographer takes it personally and attributes maliciousness where there is none. The Derper scratching his bum in the background does not know he is very much wrecking the shot, but the photographer feels that he is a dunderhead and is doing it on purpose. The world does not revolve around your camera! Photographers only feel that way.

I hope this helps. I find it a useful strategy to remind myself of Faff and Herp Derpers before taking any shot. I take fewer photos, and more effective photos, per event, and am disappointed less when reviewing them later.

A photo bomb is an intentional Derp by someone named Herp Derpington.