Unorthodox Photography Composition Techniques

Hanoi, 2017 #cindyproject

Some ideas for you to make more dynamic compositions:

One. Unorthodox Composition: Place Your Subject on Bottom of Frame With Negative Space Above

I stole this composition from my friend Charlie Kirk. Basically, have your subject on bottom of frame, looking up.

Tokyo photo by Charlie Kirk. Note low placement of subject head, and ample negative space above.

1. I love elevators.

Elevators are a good place to experiment with this. Simple background. Shoot wide angle, (28mm lens), and place subject head on bottom.

Example of two versions I shot of Cindy in Saigon, in elevator:

Saigon, 2017 #cindyproject

Lesson: ask your subject to look different directions (up, down, left, right) and choose your favorite version when you get home.

2. Selfie

Make a mirror selfie, with you on bottom of frame. Here is one I shot:

Selfie. Saigon, 2017

Another version, this time a little more centered in the frame:

Saigon, selfie, 2017

3. Depth

Pre focus on background at 5 meters. Shoot depth, with subject on bottom out of focus.

Sapa, 2016

The reason this works: having an out of focus subject on the bottom of the frame encourages your eye to wander in the background.

Two. Decapitation technique

Cut off the head of your subject.

Selfie of me:

Clever photo by Vivian Maier:

Photo by Vivian Maier, note how the mans head is in magazine cover.

Ask your subject to spread their arms. Don’t include their face.

Seattle, 2015

Three. High perspective, looking down

Use a camera with lcd screen. Hold camera high, and point down.

Get clean, simple background.

Photo of Cindy:

Another photo from NYC, holding my RICOH GR high, shooting down.

Nyc, 2015. Note the strong graphic lines in background.

Four. Super low angle, looking up.

Get super low, and crouch very low (squat until your ass touches the ground). Then shoot looking up.

Another shot, a street photo from London. I saw the background, and waited for someone to enter.

Juxtaposition shot, crouched down. London, 2015

Five. Distortion

Downtown LA, 2015. No crop. See distortion of man face on left.

Use a wide angle 28mm lens, and put your subject on the extreme edges of the frame. It creates a surreal feel.

Distortion is generally not flattering for glamor or beauty shots. But they make interesting visual images for street photography.

Downtown LA, 2016. Getting very close with 28mm RICOH GR makes her neck look longer, and more sensual.

But then again, using 28mm extends the body limbs of your subjects arms and legs. This can be good for vogue fashion photos, like this image of Cindy below on RICOH GR II in a bar in Saigon:

Saigon, 2017 #cindyproject

Six. Eye contact

This isn’t unorthodox, but imma share it anyways. Get eye contact. It is more intimate for the viewer:

Downtown LA, 2016. Note how her body is turned away from me, but her head and eyes are turned to me, making eye contact.

Eye contact is also often uncomfortable for the viewer (and photographer):

Another technique: hold your camera up, wait for your subject to notice your presence, then shoot the photo. An example of a photo I made in NYC, candid, with the Ricoh GR. I was about 1 meter away from her:

NYC, 2016

Seven. Negative space

Don’t always fill the frame. Tilt your camera, and add unnecessary negative space.

In this photo below, see the girls eyes looking left. I have negative white space on the left of the frame, allowing her eye gaze to travel left:

Note negatives space on left.

Eight. Extreme depth

Don’t focus what is closest to you. Get very close to people in the foreground, but focus on the subject furthest away from you. I shot this film Leica, 35mm lens, f8, focus at 5 meters:

Focus at 5 meters

Another photo in England, man on the right of the frame is a “bookend” to add more depth in the photo. But I’m focusing on the background, at 5 meters. Shot also at f8.

Nine. Off camera flash

A photo, with an off camera flash. I put a flash on a chord, and held it very low, aiming up. Giving this man a “spooky” look (remember when you were a kid, and did this with a flashlight?)

Mumbai, 2011

Another candid street photo with the camera flash positioned low, aiming up:

Mumbai, 2011

Ten. Mirrors

Try to screw up a sense of perspective of reality with fun house mirrors.

A selfie photo in a changing room at a fashion boutique:

Saigon, 2017


Holding camera very high. Note the infinite reflections.

Another fun selfie, this time not showing my eyes.

Saigon, 2017


Saigon, 2017

To have fun with composition, just play around.

Tilt the camera. Put the camera on the ground. Shoot from very high, looking down. Blur your photos by shaking the camera when you shoot. Use a flash. Get very close. Play with your focusing distances.

There is no right or wrong in composition.

Just avoid boring compositions.



Saigon, 2017 #cindyproject

Photography Composition Inspiration

Composition Theory

Saigon, 2017

Take your composition to the next level:

Street Photography Composition 101

Tokyo, 2012 eric kim street photography composition leading line

For distilled lessons on composition, read the free ebook: “The Street Photography Composition Manual.”

Further articles to improve your compositions in photography:

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Learn compositional theory:

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