Adding Another Dimension to your Street Photography using Layers

“Just as a good story should have a beginning, middle, and ending, so a good photograph benefits from having a foreground, middle ground, and background.”

~John Hedgecoe Emeritus Professor of Photography at the Royal College of Art, Queen Magazine, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Observer, Vogue, and Life.

Feeling Flat?

During one Pasar Ubud Tour, I was asked, “How can I create more depth in a street photo?” My favourite go-to technique to create depth is layering–not to be confused with Photoshop layers.

So just like Mr. Hedgecoe says above, think about creating a photograph on the street that has someone right in front of you (1-2 metres), someone slightly further away (3-5 metres), and someone or something in the background 6+ metres away.

Layering street compositions - Bali Street Photographer
The man is about one metre from me, the woman looking at me is between 3-4 metres from me, and the people/building/trees behind the woman are 6+ metres away from me.

The Technique

I found the best way to do this if you’ve never tried layering yet is to do what Eric Kim suggests. Kim will manually set his focus to 5 metres (middle layer). Then, pick a spot with some people passing in front of you at various distances and start clicking. This is when the magic happens. You should have a set of exposures with people blurry (first layer), in focus (middle layer), and in the background.

Pro tip: For analogue and digital cameras, set your shutter speed to at least 1/60 or 1/80 of a second and aperture at F8 or F11 so that your middle layer subject is in focus. For digital cameras, you can try setting the camera to aperturepriority with F8 or F11.

Layering street compositions - Bali Street Photographer
Going crazy with layers at Bali Spirit Festival 2018.

Inspiration from the Masters

Cologne West Germany by Josef Koudelka
Cologne West Germany by Josef Koudelka
Woman in Cloche Hat and Pedestrians by Walker Evans
Woman in Cloche Hat and Pedestrians by Walker Evans

Recommended Reading

  1. Working on Layers by Eric Kim.

bali street photographer - mark l chaves

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