Harry Fisch: How to find perfect composition for your street photography

Published in Digital Camera World  UK.


A good travel photographer is, above all, an observer. In my experience, the ability to pre-visualise an image is the key to taking good photographs.

Capturing a great shot is not just a question of looking, but also of paying attention to all the details that might somehow influence the end result: light, shape, colours and hues of the objects and the people in front of the lens.
In my street photography, I take a brief moment to take in peoples’ body language and the dynamics of their every day life in the street. Interpreting and anticipating the scene in front of me helps me to find an appropriate focus to my images.

This is the most creative part of the photographic process: we have to use our imagination, our awareness, and even a little sense of drama. It is important to anticipate the image you want to take in order to get into the appropriate position to be alert and ready to capture the exact picture we want.

I achieve this by looking at the objects in front of me and deciding on the best composition, the story they tell and how they relate to each other, their environment and especially light. I consider different compositions and scenarios, using my mind to place people in the scene in different attitudes and postures. I also imagine how light will interact with the scene: if it illuminates part of it, it could help a certain area to stand out.

At other times I reverse this process and think about how the image would turn out if some of its items, objects or persons weren’t within the frame.

In the picture at the top of this page (taken in Havana, Cuba) I visualised the scene before taking the shot. I imagined the image of a single person walking along and being highlighted against a wall. In order to make this a strong image, I needed more intense lighting. I was sure that I could make this image that I had visualised a reality.

I returned to the same place the next morning, seeking the light that would illuminate the background and more specifically a passer-by. The different lighting interacted with the environment to achieve the image that I had in my mind. In this way, I was able to create an image to tell a story, enabling me to achieve the impact I wished to create by placing emphasis on different areas of the image.

It is also essential to know exactly where to stand: I needed to position the camera at the proper angle as well as choose the right moment to take the shot. To do this, I usually place myself in different positions in front of the scene before even thinking about the final picture in order to test alternative angles and heights.

If I hadn’t pre-visualised the image, this picture would never have come to be. With a little luck, I might have taken a similar one, but always with a poorer, less effective outcome.
Simply having a great view or scene to photography will never be enough, as without the ability to pre-visualise an image, the photograph as an artistic act will not exist. What remains will only be an image of random moment.