Dividing the frame in Street Photography


“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” — Dorothea Lange


In this course, I’ll only show my pictures, both those I use as a presentation of the topic and others that I’ll use as an explanation. They’ll be photographs I’ve taken, but there’s an exception in this topic: the photograph that opens the topic, a drawing from teacher F. Ibáñez of our favorite agents, Mr. Mortadelo and Mr. Filemón, what good times they’ve made me have!

I must admit that this image is what made me a photographer, the one I still remember when I see someone in a corner, the one that made me more observant, (anyone who’s read these comics could see chorizos hanging in strange places, snails smoking , cigarette butts on the floor, mice wearing sunglasses...)... what great stories with these two agents of the T.I.A

Observe the scene for a while. The frame is divided into two scenes with a corner. On the left side we have Filemón encouraging Mortadelo who, with a boxing glove, is ready to punch a thief real good, he’s seen running in the opposite direction, knowing that something strange is going to happen next, who sees nothing less than Superman looking like Superman, confident of himself, of his strength and his superpowers.

Nobody knows what’s going to happen, except for the spectator, the one who sees the image (remember that we not only photograph for ourselves but also for those who visualize our photos). And it’s that who is going to take Mr. Mortadelo’s punch, it’s Mr. Superman, with all that that can involve... very good image.

By the way, have you noticed the cigarette butt on the floor, the UFO and Martian? Great Ibáñez.

I wanted to tell you that not only photographs inspire, but also comics, cartoons in the newspapers, drawings... do.

Thank you Mr. Ibáñez, you’ve made me laugh a lot, you’ve taught me to look and you’ve made me, without you knowing it, a photographer.


What do we get by dividing the frame?

You have several things to achieve by dividing the frame: the separation of scenes and/or subjects, different stories, creating distance and depth with what’s being photographed, juxtaposition, balance, a visual journey for those who observe your picture



1. The corners

Although there are many possible ways to divide the frame, maybe the corners are the first thing you should observe. A student from Hong Kong keeps repeating to me that there are corners on all sides of the world, even "around the corner". In a corner we can find two different scenes and, if you're lucky, they complement each other. If we can complement the scenes we will get a good photograph.

I remember seeing a photograph with a scene in a corner where, on one side, there were two people delivering something in a mysterious way; while, on the opposite side of the corner, a couple of policemen approached. The fact of being able to complete each side of the division will give us a powerful image, like that of Mortadelo.





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When we go out knowing what we want to observe/photograph we see better and we arrive with results. In this picture, taken on purpose for this course, I saw a girl dressed as a bride making a photo shoot in the street, near a corner, and I put myself in position, in front of the corner, to see who was coming. I was applying slow shutter speed to give you an example of this lesson and the previous one. The girl had to be a professional model since she didn’t stop moving and posing. I waited for someone who could contrast or complement the bride to pass, and this lady went through with work clothes and pushing a car, both of them complemented the photo, it gave it contrast.

Exercise

If you see someone or something that you think can give sense to a photograph in a corner, stand in front of it and see what or who comes from the other side. If you think there may be contrast between the subjects (next lesson Juxtaposition) shoot at a high speed. If you think there is not too much contrast, but one of them stopped because they’re consulting their cellphone, reading, chatting, etc... play with the slow shutter speed (if the light allows it) as I told you in the previous lesson. The person passing by the other side of the corner will give the sensation of movement while the opposite subject is very static.

This is a very good exercise to start playing with shutter speed and to observe. It’s very technical but it’ll give us dynamic photographs and with a lot of rhythm.

Another example of corners with static people:

Look at this picture, the frame is divided in half. You don’t have to divide it in half every time, look for new compositions, do you remember what I said about being creative, selective and a little provocative?, well that, provoke with your frames.

In the darkest part of the photograph we have a woman who wears white clothes and in the most illuminated part we have another woman who wears black clothes. A very simple photo, but with a beautiful composition, two stories on each side of the corner.




1.1 Corners and Geometry

To divide the frame with geometry is to demonstrate the art that you have inside. Everyone likes geometry. In later topics you’ll see that we’ll talk a lot about the geometry of street photography, being Topic 6 dedicated exclusively to it.

There are many things in corners: Windows, angles, doors, lampposts, lines, etc... and that’ll help the composition of your photograph a lot, if you have enough time to "fish".



The lines on the floor give a lot of sense to our compositions and, if they end in a corner, we can obtain some geometric figures: triangles, squares and rectangles that’ll give beauty to our composition. In this topic you are learning to divide the frame taking advantage of the lines on the ground and the corners, among other things.

Look at the photograph above, the lines that come out of the lower vertices end in a corner forming a triangle. This corner is what divides the frame, leaving a simple wall (rectangle) on the left side and a plane further away on the right side, where a woman with a white umbrella appears on a black background.

The composition is very enjoyable. Perhaps it would’ve been better if a cow appeared on the left side sucking the bangs of a rocker who plays the harmonica, I don’t doubt it, but the satisfaction of having found this composition from nothing makes you happy.



Tip: I think that closing the photographic plane with a barrier, wall or anything that prevents noise and distractions (trees, cars, litter bins, etc...) is the icing on the cake, a low shot by the post (soccer-like).








2. Division by lines on the ground

I’ve already told you that the lines on the floor will give you many good compositions. Seeing lines on the ground and trying to take advantage of them will enhance your creativity. I’m sorry to tell you that, from this lesson, you’ll see compositions on the curbs, road signs, shadows... you’ll see the ground and you’ll stop to compose by dividing the frame.

In the following image you can perfectly see the division of the frame by a line on the ground. This line also tells us where the child is (soccer field) and gives meaning to the photograph. Dividing the frame in two: on the right a soccer ball and on the left a child, who instead of playing with it, is consulting his cellphone, we give sense and contrast to the photograph.







3. Division by a Column or Pillar.

We have seen that the corners and the floor lines are very good allies to divide the frame into two different stories, we just have to observe and think.

Going out to divide the frame is a very good exercise that’ll teach you to observe in a different way, knowing that you go out to photograph corners, columns lines, pillars, shadows... you’ll see them very quickly and in a different way.

Remember this phrase,

"If you don’t know what you are looking for you’ll never find it".

The trick is to practice a lot so that it becomes instinctive. I don’t go out looking for corners, lines or columns ... after thousands of photos I already have them instinctively in my head, and the more you practice, the more invisible you will become.








3.1. The Columns

I love columns for my compositions and if they belong to the construction of a building of a tourist site even more so. Remember that there are many people in touristic places and where people gather is a good place to photograph. But remember: do not photograph what everyone photographs, be creative, selective and a little provocative.

In these touristic places we always see someone who is photographed, posing, people walking, lost children... Finding a good division of the frame, with different stories on each side, is easier than in other places.



In this image we see the division of the frame by a column that divides the photograph in two, from the middle (remember that you don’t have to place it in the middle, be provocative with your compositions), being very symmetrical, with a simple but strong composition.

The photo was taken at a tourist site in Hong Kong and I was struck by the two windows, the column that divided and the sign that indicates where the toilets are. I had a perfect composition and I waited for a while. I managed to take photos with slow shutter speed, with many people on one side of the image and no one on the other, and many more shots. This is the one I like the most and it made me feel proud of the time I spent in order to capture it.

Look how the windows, people and columns make the composition symmetrical, the poster of the toilets placing the boy on the left and the girl on the right, and the column that separates the image into two stories.

The pillars are also our friends when it comes to composing and dividing the frame, being those of public places such as museums, metro, libraries, exhibition centers... my favorites. They are my favorites because there the light is not very strong and it’s constant, allowing me to play with slow shutter speeds and create good compositions.

Do you remember the photograph from the previous post?



We have a man standing looking at his cell phone, an escalator where there are people going up and a pillar that splits the scene in two. An interesting composition, but let me tell you a secret: It’s a photograph that is very easy to achieve and that’ll impact the person who sees it.

Notice how good the column works by separating the two scenes. The man who consults the cell phone is standing, creating contrast with the people who use the escalators.

Throughout the course we’ll see that, for a photograph to be impressive, it has to gather certain elements: humor, geometry, symmetry, contrasts, decisive moment, story, different planes... In this photograph we have at least 3, which are: division of framing, contrast, slow shutter speed. And that impacts whoever visualizes it.

I CHALLENGE YOU 3 TIMES: 

1. Go out to photograph a corner and get two photos:

A person standing on each side of the corner

A person standing on one side and another moving (slow shutter speed)

2. Divide the frame with any line, curb, shadow you see on the ground, when any geometric figure forms.

3. Photograph a Pillar, a column and get:

A person standing on each side.

A person standing on one side and another moving (slow shutter speed)

Remember that the more you practice observation it becomes instinctive and that knowing what you are going to photograph, it’s easily found.

This is getting interesting, in Topic 1 we have given meaning to our photography by shooting people's backs; in Topic 2 we have learned a bit of technique with slow shutter speeds; In this lesson we’ve learned to divide the frame and in the next lesson we’ll see and learn to contrast what’s photographed: The juxtaposition.

Tip: Make yourself invisible

You’ll learn to become invisible with time, I always say that invisibility starts with a small camera, a bag that doesn’t look like you have a camera inside, see what you want to photograph from a distance, approach slowly and put on a happy face and have no visual contact with whatever you’re going to photograph or have already photographed.

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