One of the best ways to turn your street photographs from ok to awesome is to use some of the great composition tips and tricks out there. Many people do not know why they like a photograph, but it is often it’s composition that draws us to it. Using some of these guidelines will help you create more balanced and visually pleasing images.
Many people think that they can crop and change the composition in photoshop. And to some extent, that is true. But it is much easier and quicker to do it at the time you take the picture. As Bryan Peterson says “There is no better time to crop a bad composition than just before you press the shutter release.”
With that in mind here are some ways you can use composition to make your street photographs amazing.
Use natural lines to lead the eye to the main subject of the picture. The lines you use can be something visible such as lines on a street, overhead wires or train tracks. Or they can be something you can’t see but is implied, such as the direction someone is looking in, the height of people's heads in a scene. Although horizontal, vertical lines and curves can work well diagonal lines are the most dynamic and can often convey motion. Using lines can declutter an image and make it easy for the viewer to understand.
One of the easiest ways to change how your image looks is to move your feet. This could mean you get closer to your subject and fill the frame more. Or you could try photographing from lower down or higher up to get a different perspective. Changing the viewpoint can also change the mood and feeling of an image. It can make certain elements seem bigger or more important. For example, if you photograph a small dog when you are standing up that photograph will feel very different than if you had got down to the level of the dog and photographed it from there. Combined with other elements such as leading lines and the rule of thirds you can create a really powerful image just by moving yourself.
A good background can make or break an image especially if it is distracting. If it does not add to the context of the photograph then try to ensure it is simple and enhancing rather than detracting from your subject. For example lines in the background that lead you to the main focal point can be a valuable part of the photograph. But a cluttered background with bright colors may simply take your eye away from the main focal point. If that is the case you could try moving yourself to a different position to alter the background. Or, if that is not possible then consider your depth of field and change your settings to make the background blurry (try f4).
When you look through your viewfinder imagine your image is divided into 9 sections by using two vertical and horizontal lines. Notice where the lines intersect. Try and move your camera (and/or yourself) so your subject lines up with one of those four intersections. You can also use the rule of thirds as a guideline for your horizon. Positioning it on one of the lines will make for a more balanced and pleasing image.
Subjects with a repetitive pattern can make for interesting photographs. For example a whole street of umbrellas. Pattern can also work really well when it is broken at some point perhaps through color. This break in the pattern creates a strong point of focus for the image. If you can then place that point of focus in the image by using the rule of thirds then even better.
Just like when you frame an image on the wall, in photography framing your subject will isolate it from the rest of the image and make it stand out more. A frame can be something natural like a tree or it can be something man-made, like a doorway or an arch. Using a simple frame will lead the viewer's eye to the place you want it to go to. But beware of a very complicated frame as that can distract the viewer from the main point of the image.
Sometimes having a lot going on in a frame can be distracting. For example, if you are photographing a street when you look back at the images they may not convey what you hoped they would. One reason for this might be that there was a lack of focus within the photograph. The image is too busy and the viewer does not know what they are supposed to be looking at. Try and ensure one point of focus shines through as it will make the image stronger.
Using shadows and reflections can bring a different dynamic to any scene. Shadows make lighter parts the image stand out, reflections show things in a different perspective. Laying your images but showing reflections through windows or in puddles can create greater depth and make the image more interesting. Remember to make sure that the viewer's eye is still drawn to the main focal point.
One way to simplify an image is to use negative space. This means that part of the photograph that is empty. If you create space around the subject of your image then that can be very impactful. This is particularly true if you are photographing anything that is moving. If you take a picture of a cyclist then the image will be more visually please if he still has somewhere to travel to, rather than being stuck at the edges of the frame.
As well as taking your own photographs, one way to learn about good and bad composition is to look at the work of some of the master street photographers. If you like someone’s work then start reading their books and looking and at their images. By seeing how they use composition out of the street and in difficult situations may give you some inspiration of things to try out. If you are unsure whose work to begin looking at then try some of these photographers as a place to start: Martin Parr, Bruce Gilden, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Joel Meyerowitz and Alex Webb.
"Nothing happens when you sit at home." Elliott Erwitt
So often we want to get better at something but we just don't actually get started. Now you know a few more composition tips that will really help take your street photography to the next level, head out there and see what you can do.
Please share your images with the rest of the community on the Facebook page The Street Photography Hub. I look forward to seeing your photos.