Street Photography Tips : About composition. 9

I recently shared a slideshow about my 3 days in Marseille on my YouTube channel. I had not yet had the time to write a Blog on it to share it with you. You will find the link just below. One of my followers wanted to know a little more about the composition. I work a lot on instinct. Which does not mean that it’s guess work and that with a little luck I have something suitable. It does not work that way … In most cases, there is thinking before pressing the shutter button. It happens very quickly. These are composition schemes that I have in mind. Nothing is fixed. I do not apply ready-made recipes, but with all these different schemes in mind, my brain knows how to recognize interesting situations and compositions.



I will try to detail in this Blog, which led me to take a picture. What are the important elements that I wanted to integrate into my composition and especially when I decided to press the trigger. This Blog will not be exhaustive. I just take the opportunity to explain some photos taken recently in Marseille. I do not pretend to give composition classes. These are just tips. I started the T.M.E (Through My Eyes) project to show you what my eyes were seeing in the street. Here, it will be more a question of explaining to you what led me to press the trigger.


  • Exemple 1.



You can see that this picture is composed of three elements. I locked from the beginning the exposure on the highlights (on the sky here). I had to spend in all and for less than a minute to get to this picture. I spotted two people waiting for the bus and of course the gentleman with the hat caught my attention. A silhouette of a guy with a hat always works. I also had this billboard bathed in light. The interest was to now complicate this too simple composition by integrating another element. The bus arrived rather quickly counteracting my plans. I managed to have a picture with a cyclist. Then people started to get on the bus, that’s when a lady came with her stroller. I had to take a small step on the left so that her silhouette stands out against the sky. I had my three elements. That’s when I decided to start. You can see the other photos below.



  • Exemple 2.



I already knew that this photo would be in B&W. FYI, I shoot in RAW only and I do not use a filter on my Ricoh GR to have a preview in monochrome. But I know right now for some photos if I will work in color or monochrome. Here clearly for me it was B&W. Why ? The horizontal stripes of the gentleman’s shirt and the vertical bars. The gentleman’s attitude in the foreground had caught my attention, as well as the silhouette of the man leaning against the fence in the background. The road and the barrier allowed me to play with the leading lines that led me to the bus stop which gives me a little context in reading this image. We are near the Catalan Beach in Marseille. It certainly does not speak to you, but all the Marseillais know this beach. The girl on the billboard, it’s just a bonus. I did not pay attention, but it complements the overall composition. Note that I stalled the hand of the guy in the foreground at the bottom right of my image for more dynamism. This photo was made while walking. When I saw the scene, I paused to integrate all the elements I told you about, and then I just kept walking until I was able to trigger at the right moment. I do this to keep the candid moment of the scene. If I stopped to compose, the gentleman would surely have looked at me. Sometimes that’s what I’m looking for, but very often I do not prefer it.


  • Exemple 3.



I love this picture because there is movement and it represents the tumult of Marseille. This photo was made in the district of Chartreux close to the apartment where I lodged. My attention was of course drawn to this group of young people who were coming back from the gym presumably. The idea was to organize the chaos that reigned in this place to get something readable out of it. Again this photo was made while walking and waiting for the right moment to trigger. What is the right moment will you tell me ? I took into account several elements. Be careful that there are no overlapping characters (there is the little boy with the striped t-shirt, but I do not find it embarrassing). Have characters coming in and out of the frame. And to finish points of support in the background (the man with the helmet). All this thinking is taking place quickly in my mind. The small bonus of this photo is the small group of young people coming down the sidewalk. Why is this so important ? It gives life to the photo ! It’s like people coming in and out of the box. This photo is not static. There is movement, life and tension. You can see below, another exemple of this kind of picture.



  • Exemple 4.



Obviously this picture I only conceived in color ! I stayed close to this gentleman for 5 minutes with his yellow swim shorts. This is the kind of character that catches your eyes when you’re on the street. A few years ago I would have put myself in front of him shamelessly and I would have taken a photo with a low pov. Not anymore. It’s like when I was younger, I was doing daredevil stuff that I will not do it again now. It’s stupid to get old … Instead, I tried to compose differently by integrating another bather who was tanning with also a yellow swimsuit. I only had to wait for other people to finish my composition. These two ladies will do the trick. We have yellow on the outside and blue on the inside. This photo would have no meaning in monochrome. you can see that there is an eye contact. It was inevitable by staying so long on the spot, I am necessarily spotted.


  • Exemple 5.



This photo was made on the boat that took me to the island of Frioul which is off the coast of Marseille. I spotted these two Japanese who were dressed identically. These colorful shirts were a feast for the eyes and made the use of color mandatory. I made something like 10 photos to get to that one. As usual, I try to complicate the composition by adding elements. Here it was trying to integrate the lady with the hat in the frame. I think I kind od succeeded here and I even had bonus gestures. My only regret about this picture is to have been too close to them because I would have liked to see a little more their shirt. The reason I was so close was to eliminate other clutter elements from the composition. Half succeeded because we still distinguish the face of the guy with the FC Barcelona t-shirt left.



  • Exemple 6.



Photo taken on arrival on the island of Frioul. I was immediately attracted by these supermarket shopping carts lying there on the platform. Surely to help vacationers carry their luggage. I put myself on the other side to take a picture and I noticed at that moment, the colors that match well. This photo was motivated by the oddness of the scene.


  • Exemple 7.



This photo above was made on the esplanade at the top of MuCEM. It is a very photogenic place. This photo is a failed one. I really like the shadows of people who come into the picture. They do not overlap and we clearly see 3 people walking. This photo was taken late afternoon with a sun that stretches the shadows. It’s not good because nothing is happening ! I highlighted in red the missing elements. Finally that’s what I had in mind when I imagined this picture in my head. Shadows that enter the frame, a character on the right side of the picture, another in the middle and finally characters in the upper right, a bit of gestures ans that’s all ! Just to have a balanced composition. All that would have happened if I was more patient, but it was a late afternoon and I had already tired … In the end I managed to have all these elements separated but not all together !



I still managed to have something interesting when I did not expect it. The low sun often offered me gestures where people protected themselves from the sun. It was the case on this last photo. I was also lucky to have a gesture from a character who was on different layer. This last picture was taken as I was heading for the exit. I did not expect it. I had not managed to get what I had imagined in my head, but another scene came to me. It’s the street. Very often, nothing happens as expected. You have to be responsive and always be ready to press the shutter button.



  • Exemple 8.



I introduce you Mario, the plunger of le Vieux Port ! If I only had to show this picture, you’d say, “Thumbs up Jeff, you have an eye and caught a great moment! “. In fact the reality is quite different. I had to take about twenty photos of Mario before I managed to get what I wanted. I went down to the Vieux Port to take pictures of the fish stalls with everyone who is pressing on this place in the morning. I heard a huge splash on my back. That’s when I realized that someone had just plunged into the harbor ! I saw him reappear and climb on the platform. I knew well that he was going to start again. So I stayed there at the edge waiting for him to jump again to try to capture this time his jump. I did not know how to compose. Like an idiot, I tried to take a low pov to have him detached on the blue sky. Missed test. It was later that I realized that I had my background so that he stands out in the composition. It was the sea ! I like this picture because the attitude is perfect with the palms of the hand turned towards me and his pink swim suit that contrasts well with the blue of the sea. Of course this picture works better in color. I worked the other photos in B&W, but clearly the photo is better in color.



  • Exemple 9.



Photo still taken at MuCEM. I was going out when I saw this place that was just beautiful with the shadows on the ground. Little detail, there was no one in front of me … I peeked behind me and saw 3 people arriving including a woman wearing a long dress. So I waited for them to go past me to make this picture. The image can be divided into 3 parts. I stalled the woman’s head against the back wall that was clear for the photo to be successful. There the monochrome or the color did not matter much. I retouched it in B&W because I like the B&W …


  • Exemple 10.



I was on the Esplanade de la Major (famous cathedral in Marseille), when I saw a crowd of people with blue helmets screwed on their heads. The street often rhymes for me with routine but it is also know how to spot the unusual. And there clearly, there were pictures to do. It was a group of tourists who were preparing to go and visit the city on these species of all-terrain gyropods. They had just finished taking the instructions and were on the way out. I immortalized their departure. It was like a small army going into battle. The most complicated thing was to trigger at the right moment to prevent the photo from being unreadable with overlapping gyropods. I still succeeded there even if a person is overlapping behind my foreground silhouette.



Here I am done with these few dissected photos. These explanations are to be taken for what they are. In no case a lecture on composition. I’ve just unraveled some of the photos in this slideshow to explain what happened in my head when I pressed the shutter button. I can do the same for each photo of the slideshow but it’s quite long …

All photos in these examples were made with the Ricoh GR.


Share Button

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

9 thoughts on “Street Photography Tips : About composition.

  • Val

    Comme toujours un article très interessant. J’ai beaucoup apprécié les photos, c’est très sympa aussi de voir les photos non retenues.

    • Jeff Chane-Mouye Post author

      Beaucoup de personnes parlent de moment décisif. Je ne suis pas vraiment d’accord avec cette définition de HCB. je trouve ce terme pompeux et prétentieux. En montrant les autres photos d’une même série je casse ce mythe. Pour moi il n’ y a rien de décisif. Il y a des moments qu’on capture.

  • John Harper

    I take a lot of shots like the first one in example 7, just missing that final element to complete the composition. Overlapping subjects is another big problem with Street, it’s extremely difficult to get right. Example 5 demonstrates that perfectly, it’s a great image, just our friend with the Barcelona shirt and part of his head, take that away and it’s outstanding. I’m almost willing him to get out of the frame. I like the reflection of her hand in the sunglasses and that gesture, of course those Hawaiian shirts are brilliant.

    I think that a lot is instinctive and you never can plan Street, something often comes along that wrecks a frame, equally the unexpected sometimes offers up some nice surprises. Like you I know when it’s in colour or black & white before I press the shutter.

    Excellent blog post Jeff, as always.

    • Jeff Chane-Mouye Post author

      What I should add is that composition is important when you’re shooting but it’s also important when you curate your own work. You have the final work in front of your eyes and you have to decide which one is the best. But definitely one should compose first and not rely on some luck afterwards.
      One of my major concern most of the time is to avoid overlapping subjects. I had some many photos ruined because of that…

    • Jeff Chane-Mouye Post author

      Hey Wayne! Glad to hear of you. Thanks for this compliment! You see it’s like living with kids. You don’t see them growing up. I feel that my photography has grown up as well. My vision has changed.
      You are one of the few people I continue to follow the work on insta with others like Elizabeth Char, Victor Borst, Yiannis Yiasaris, Yiannis Bautrait, Lauren Wells, John Harper, Laurent Coust, Christophe Mousser, Cedric Roux… So I left but I’m still checking on your work😂

      • Wayne La

        You’re there in spirit – that’s what matters mate! And thank you. I do look at your site when I remember…and I’d look at your site more if I had an Insta reminder 😉