(photo credit: Kimberly Hay)
Tom Langford is a commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer.
The job of a photographer is to take pictures that command your
attention. Whatever the subject, the aim is to create memorable images
that you cannot ignore. It should be impossible to walk past one of our
shots in an exhibition or skip over our picture in a magazine. We don’t
always succeed, but it won’t be for lack of trying.
your attention and keep you interested we have a whole bagful of tricks
and techniques. This week, we will focus on layers; one of the most
important and powerful techniques. It’s very simple to understand and
when you get the hang of it, it will dramatically improve your
photography.A shot of New York at night
have a look at this picture by Kimberly Hay, taken in New York last
year during Chanukah. She took it on her camera phone and it shows the
dormitory building of Stern College for Women
with the Empire State building in the background.
is an excellent shot showing a vibrant, noisy, bustling city at night.
The vertical format and tilt of the camera exaggerates the perspective
and draws our eyes up to the top of the shot, then the dazzling city
lights draw our eyes back down to street level. There is a lot of
movement in this image and it certainly captures New York's nighttime
To me, it also looks a little sinister and unsafe: It’s a
bit eerie that the street seems to be empty and yet there is so much
movement implied in the picture.
It’s very important to remember
that photographs have to speak for themselves and tell their own story.
I’m not sure if this is the tone I would like to set for a women’s
college dormitory in NY, but I would give this top marks as an effective
composition of a city-at-night shot. Adding a layer
Let’s see if we can give the picture more depth and meaning by using the simple device of adding a layer.
good photographs have several distinct layers. All shots, of course,
have a background layer, but the most interesting pictures will also
have middle and foreground layers. Our eyes roam between the layers and
this gives a sense of depth, movement, and meaning. Virtually all good
shots have a strong focal point that can be situated in any layer.
Kimberly’s shot is essentially a superior background layer with the
burnt-out highlights suggesting a middle layer, but it lacks a
foreground layer and a focal point. Adding a foreground layer will not
only add depth and interest but can also act as a focal point too - so
how do we go about this?
Almost anything can be used as a
foreground focal point – a simple street sign, a yellow cab, a group of
people passing by, etc. Each gives its own flavor to the shot. To keep
to the women’s dormitory theme Kimberly could place a couple of obliging
students walking into or out of the frame. An NYPD theme suggests
itself to me, as I have indicated below.
time you take an interesting shot, remember that for it to work in the
wide world, it will need to tell it’s own story. Check to see if you
have at least two layers and that there is at least one strong focal
point to suggest a story. If you think and shoot in layers your
photography will have advanced enormously. Imagine your picture in an
exhibition: Can people walking past it? Have you captured their
attention? Layers make all the difference.Constructive Feedback:
If you are aspiring to develop your photography skills, send me a
picture and I may use in one in my articles with some constructive
feedback. Send one picture only, at a small size to suitable for emails
to firstname.lastname@example.org.If you don’t know how to send a photo by email at a small size please look at my Brief Guide to Picasa: www.langford.co.il/courses/PicasaGuide.html Tom
Langford is an Event and Commercial photographer, website designer, and
professional retoucher. He teaches photography courses for beginners
and improvers. Details of his courses and field trips at: http://www.langford.co.il/courses