STREET PHOTOGRAPHY Composition PRINCIPLES

I’ve taken a minute to jot down some thoughts on composition in street photography, just a few of the techniques I try to employ while out shooting. I thought this might help those new to street photography who are just getting started. I guess it might even help non-photographers, people just casually viewing images, giving them a little more insight into what goes in to them.

I’m going to skip right over the Rule of Thirds, I’m sure everyone is already familiar with that, even our smartphones now come with a handy Rule of Thirds overlay nowadays. Instead I’m going to focus on a couple of the more complex compositional tools. 

Almost as simple and ubiquitous as Rule of Thirds is Leading Lines, this is when parallel lines in a photograph, taper with perspective and draw the eye toward the subject of the shot, to the spot where the photographer ultimately wants you to look. The example below is technically Leading Lines but it’s also Single Point Perspective. The subject doesn’t have to be centred in the frame, it could be anywhere, the important component is the lines of perspective taking you in, pulling your eye to the subject. 

The next compositional aid is Parallels, not too much explanation needed for this but it takes time and practice to train your eyes to look out for them, to spot them when they happen. The parallels can be vertical, horizontal or as in this case diagonal, the important thing to capture is the repetition, to see how the flow of the image is dependent entirely on the diagonal parallel lines.

The next technique is called the Fibonacci or Golden Spiral and it differs from the other two, in that it’s far more difficult to try to use while shooting. For most photographers, it’s a template that can be applied to an already captured image, just to see if the composition and crop follow classical lines or if the image is balanced or not. 

There are many on-line articles which more deeply and elegantly explain the Fibonacci Spiral than I’m going to be able to in this quick blog post but in basic terms, the spiral structure contains a mathematical ratio that is most commonly found in nature, in sea shells, leaves and many other organic formations. It’s been used for hundreds of years by artists and painters and compositions based on it are generally pleasing, balanced and compositionally sound. If a photographer tells you that they often shoot with this formula in mind, their pants are most definitely on fire but in time, you will start to see the spiral in your minds eye when composing a shot and it might just help. As an interesting experiment, I would definitely recommend picking a few of your more successful photos, ones you really like or get good feedback on, and overlaying the spiral, seeing if there are similarities, if the reason they’re good photo’s was the golden ratio all along.

There are many other compositional techniques but these three are a good place to start. I’ll maybe follow this up with a deeper look at the ones covered here or maybe another ‘quick look’ post about three different ones.