Nikos Economopoulos, Greece, vertical composition

18 Lessons Nikos Economopoulos Has Taught Me About Photography and Life

I was recently at the house of my friend Yves Vernin, and saw the phenomenal book, ‘In The Balkans‘ by Magnum Photographer Nikos Economopoulos, and was blown away by his epic compositions.

My first introduction to the work of Nikos Economopoulos was from my friend Charlie Kirk, who was working on an intense photography project in Istanbul. I was fascinated by the off-kilter and dynamic compositions of Nikos Economopoulos, yet how balanced his pictures were.

Thank you to Ion Grosu for access to these great quotes from a Nikos Economopolos workshop he attended.

Here are some practical lessons I’ve learned from Nikos Economopoulos, in terms of both composition and life lessons/philosophy:

1. Placement of subjects

Nikos Economopoulos, Greece, vertical composition
Nikos Economopoulos, Greece, vertical composition

Love this composition from Nikos, see the placement of subjects, and the “cherry on top” is the foot on the far right of the frame, to add balance to the frame.

Lesson 1: Vertical orientation with small details (like feet), to fill the frame, and add a spiral-like ‘arabesque’ composition to the frame.

In another frame by Nikos, you can see how he has created a similar vertical composition, also with a spiral-curved ‘arabesque’ composition:

And another photo by Nikos, of a drunken woman. Note the surrealism of the broken wine glass that looks like blood:

I also love this composition by Nikos, in the zig-zag pattern/composition of the light, and the spoons:

2. Extreme negative space

In these bold compositions by Nikos Economopoulos, you can see how he got extremely close to a subject in the foreground, and focused on subjects in the background. I love the extreme minimalism of this picture:

3. Placement of eyes at the bottom of the frame

Another edgy compositional technique from Nikos Economopoulos; his use of putting the boy’s head at the bottom of the frame, cutting his face to only show his eyes. Then you see the dynamic depth– the boy on top with his legs dangling, and all of the diagonals and lines leading to his head (in the form of a triangle):

4. Surrealism

Nothing that seems more surreal than displaced arms (like the one in the far left touching the hat of the man), the spiral, and the hand of the man on the bottom of the frame covering his drink:

5. Balance of subjects in frame/half of a boy’s face cut off

Note all the placement of the subjects in the frame; achieving perfect balance. The dynamic tension and movement of the dog in the bottom on the rame exiting the frame, and the half-face of the child on the far right:

6. Finding better backgrounds

TURKEY. Central Anatolia. 1988. Nikos Economopoulos

“For me, it is easier to find a better background than to open up the aperture.” – Nikos Economopoulos

When you’re shooting; look for good backgrounds.

7. Balance

“In photography [the] most important [thing] is to keep balance. It is my obsession to keep balance.” – Nikos Economopoulos

8. Follow your intuition

“Everyone can be trained to be intuitive. It is easier than thinking too much.” – Nikos Economopoulos

9. You need to be educated in art

“There are people who don’t like Mozart. They say it’s boring. One needs to be educated in order to like Mozart. It’s as simple as that.” – Nikos Economopoulos

10. How do you place objects in space?

“What is most interesting in modern photography is how you put objects in space. That is very important. Love and feelings are passe. It’s not any more. It’s like to repeat something that has been done many many years ago. You have to move on.” – Nikos Economopoulos

11. Make your pictures more abstract!

“More abstract! We need to work more abstract. If you do something realistic, it’s not interesting. What exactly means more abstract I don’t know…” – Nikos Economopoulos

12. On surprise

“It has to be a surprise in photography, to learn something new and to feel pleasure from it. You understand?”- Nikos Economopoulos

13. You are the brain

“The lens has no brain.” – Nikos Economopoulos

14. Don’t be nostalgic; go further

“Going back to film is nostalgic. Personally I don’t like nostalgic things. It’s for old people. Young people have to go further.” – Nikos Economopoulos

15. Never stop learning

“I decided not to go with black and white because I know how to do black and white. With color I don’t know. I am learning with color.” – Nikos Economopoulos

16. Go back to the same places

“It is important to me to go back to the same places.” – Nikos Economopoulos

17. Be like a child

“Be like a five-year-old, play with the world, be like a stray dog, relax!” – Nikos Economopoulos

18. Break the rules to find your own style

“To start to break the rules in your own style. This is the target.” – Nikos Economopoulos

Photos by Nikos Economopoulos

My favorite pictures by Nikos Economopoulos:

GREECE. Athens. Monastiraki. Flea market. 1979.
TURKEY. Eskisehir. A horse farm. 1988.
GREECE. Kea island. School children dressed up on National Day for the parade celebrating the Greek independence (separation from the Ottoman Empire). March 25th, 1988.
Black sea region.
TURKEY. Patnos village. Schoolboys at the marketplace. 1990.
TURKEY. Kars village. Nomads. 1990.
TURKEY. Yozgat. Political meeting. 1990.
F.Y.R.O Macedonia. Gipsies. The posters on the wall concern the referendum for the independence of Macedonia. 1991.
GREECE. Alexandroupolis. In a coffee shop named “the tavern of Ali”. A Muslim gipsy holds up a chair without losing balance to prove his sobriety. 1991.
ALBANIA. Tirana. The Central Railway station. 1991.
ALBANIA. Tirana. 1991.
ALBANIA. Town of Fieri. Bus stop. 1991.
ALBANIA. Bus station. 1992.
CROATIA. Town of Vukovar. Gypsy musicians playing on the street. 1992.
GREECE. Epirus, Parakalamos. A gipsy musician. 1993.
CYPRUS. Ledra Palace check point. Holding a portrait of her son, missing since the war in 1974, a mother protests against the continued occupation of Northern Cyprus. 1997.
Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, 2012.
GREECE. Macedonia. Turkey farm. 1988.
SPAIN. Andalucia. Grenada. Guadix. 2005.
ALBANIA. Mirdita region. Perlat village. The DONDA family “forgave” the blood and has reconciliated with the SULEYMANIS. But the women still mourn the recent deads. 1998.

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Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos
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