How to Shoot Layers in Street Photography Composition

Henri Cartier bresson layers composition gif eric kim

To make more dynamic and interesting street photographs, shoot layers:

Why layers?

Layers make a photograph more dynamic, interesting, surreal, and epic.

1. Cut off heads of statues, people very small, and showing painting

Henri gif composition

Good example from HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON:

What I like most about this composition is this:

  1. Statues have their head cut off (surrealism)
  2. Two statues on the far left and far right (bookend figures) are white, yet the inner statue is black. Makes for good rhythm of tones.
USA. Washington DC. 1957. The Capitol. Statuary Hall.

First let me block out the background with blue.

Now from a very basic idea:

The bookend figures are white-grey, inner figure is black.

Grey, black, grey is the “rhythm”of the tones in the photo.

Also for a sense of scale, see how small the subjects are in proportion to the frame— making the statues seem even grander:

2. Arabesque (curve) and multiple subjects with even spacing

Another great HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON composition. This time, note the spacing of the subjects, and their different directions:

With Procreate on iPad:

Now bringing the scenery and perspective to play:

Note how the green bar in the center of the frame separates the frame to the left and right sections. The left section is heavier with subjects.

Let us also consider the vectors (arrows) or the directions which the subjects are moving. Pink is walking directly towards us, blue is going left, green is going upwards, and red is all the way out of the frame:

Therefore if we think about “vectors”(arrows in math and geometry), we can consider how the vectors add and subtract one another — giving birth to dynamic force, movement, and direction:

Then using simple notions of “vector addition and subtraction”, we can cancel our two of the vectors, showing that the general “visual gist”or movement of the photo is towards the upper-left:

3. Foreground and background (two layers), with all subjects in pairs of 2

Henri Cartier bresson layers gif eric kim

Another classic HCB photo:

Showing the layers (foreground in blue, background in orange):

Also another interesting note:

  • Two boys in foreground (green)
  • Two girls in background (pink)
  • Two dogs (cyan)
  • Two adults (yellow)

Perfect pairing.

4. Multiple subjects, with central subject

Circular composition layers

Another HCB.

Note the sole old man in the center of the frame (the central subject), with all the children heads around them — evenly spaced out:

Outlined more:

Also note the ring composition with the kids faces and accordions on the bottom of the frame:

And voila!

5. The secret is in the curves? (Arabesque)?

It seems my ultimate takeaway is this:

The best HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON compositions have elegant and dynamic curves, multiple subjects, and is actually less about the “decisive moment”. Instead, his best compositions depict humanity shown elegantly.

How to make humans and humanity look elegant? Elegant compositions, dynamic curves, and the arabesque.

ERIC

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By ERIC KIM

Artist-Philosopher