If I had to pick the single best composition tip someone ever gave me for street photography, I’d probably go for this.
watch the backgrounds
There is a tonne of (sometimes contradictory) theory on composition in street photography, but without a doubt this point rings true for many people. You see, we often get too focused on what is in the foreground and then end up messing up the image with the background.
Seeing as we have much better depth perception than we can convey in our flat images. A tree can suddenly ruin an image or a messy background can make a subject disappear.
As soon as someone told me to watch the backgrounds, my number of keepers (and perception of good images) rose dramatically. I started to move into better positions and take more shots when I realised something wouldn’t work. Here’s a couple of practical ideas to implement this point
Probably the easiest technique is to “fish” where you pick your setting first. This helps you to wait for the subject and take the need for a good background out of the equation.
It’s a classic method for good reason and works well. It just requires patience.
If you get low, then the sky usually becomes your background. This is generally less distracting and will work better. There are exceptions but it’s worth a try. Plus it makes people look larger and creates a different dynamic.
Get high (physically)
Likewise, the ground is often cleaner too and so makes for a good background. Getting high can be a cool technique to use as well. Maybe you should look for locations where you can shoot down on to people.
If you get close to people, you eliminate most of the background. This helps to reduce the area that can be filled with distracting elements.
If you see an interesting subject but the background doesn’t work. Try getting ahead of them and finding a better background to shoot against.
What has been the most useful tip for you?
What composition tip have you found most helpful in street photography? Leave a comment below.
Also published on Medium.