What Makes This Image Work?

I have had an idea of selecting a few of my favourite images and then pull out some points on why I think the images work the way they do, and hopefully this sharing can benefit some readers (new-comers to photography) as they find ways to improve in photography. I know I have been randomly doing this for a while but lets just take a closer look at one image, and see what we can find out from this one image. 

This was not a new image, in fact I have taken this about a few weeks ago, and displayed in one of my weekly shutter therapy blog entries. 

We shoot too often at our eye level. Although eye-level photographs are mostly natural and easily acceptable by the viewers, they appear too ordinary. From time to time I would explore different angles, mostly low angle to create a more dramatic outcome. In this particular image, the light leaks from the roof was a very important element and to successfully emphasize on the bright light coming in the alley, shooting from low perspective helps. 

Lighting has always been an important factor to determine how good a photograph is. In this situation, it was a backlit situation. In most cases, an evenly lit subject appear normal and comfortable to look at, which encompasses about almost everything that we see every day. To make the photograph stand out from the usual, having different lighting effect, such as backlit or heavy directional side lighting can result in more interesting outcomes. Watching how light interacts with the subject and its environment is also very important. 

If you have played Counter Strike (gosh what a great multiplayer first person shooter game it was) one of the popular (some despised this technique) play was to "camp", meaning that staying hidden and still at one spot, until the enemy came by and you had the chance to attack (Kill!) the enemy by surprise. In the case of this image, I actually saw the scene (market place, backalley, with nice lighting setup) and I have decided to have this one particular background for my image. All I needed was a subject, so I waited (quite patiently at that) until something entered my frame. I actually knew that it would be the man with the cart, well, because it was near a storage area and there were many men with carts moving around the busy place. 

Having the background decided and waiting at one spot, camping until the subject enters the frame, this has been a popular technique in street photography. Many have argued whether this technique is really street photography (since the scene was already almost 95% planned anyway) but who cares, really? If the image works, it works, end of drama. The important thing about photography in general (not just street) is visualization, being able to picture what you want to have in your final photography output, being able to see what your image will look like in the end, and work your way backwards to your shooting execution to accomplish that goal in mind. 

There is a reason why the "Decisive Moment" is such a huge phrase when it comes to street photography. I may not be a 100% believer in decisive moment but I do admit at times, there is that one particular moment (a single frame) that trumps everything else, and we as photographers always do our best (with whatever techniques we can employ with our system) to ensure that we do not miss that very important moment. In the above image, I intentionally planned to have the subject moved into the light. I also knew that due to drastic difference in exposure part of the scene will be hidden, and as the head (and upper body) of the subject moved into the bright spot at the centre of the frame some of the will be blown into highlights. I was perfectly fine with that as part of the subject was being hidden, and that added a little mystery to the image. 

I also think that luck plays an important part. That one morning, someone was burning incense nearby (not sure it was for prayers or other purposes) and the thick smoke engulfed the whole area I was shooting. That smoke added much desired effect on how the light fell into the place. I would not have known about the incense burning and it was not something that I can predict, but seeing it happen I immediately incorporated that into the image. 

Technical notes: Image taken with Olympus OM-D E-M5 and M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-5.6 lens. Oh yes, it was that kit lens that not many people love, but I find it to deliver consistently good results. I needed the 12mm coverage for this wide angle perspective, and I went low angle, using the tilt screen (thank God, else I had to lie down on the floor). ISO320, 1/500sec, F3.5. Black and white because I love it. 


  1. You also caught the man with his foot in the air, just before it came down on the floor. That really was a decisive moment and imparts an additional sense of motion to the picture. Really a nice photo Robin.

    1. Hi Duncan,
      Thanks for pointing that out! That was unintentional, but I can see that it does help add sense of motion.

  2. This foto is exciting , U will keep looking for what is going on and stay curious.
    great picture

    1. Thanks Jan K. It is what made us curious in the first place that is worth shooting!

  3. Fantastic work, Robin, and thanks for sharing as always.

  4. Hi Robin,
    That's a 'the moment' shot,no question, nice.

    Just a Q...was the monochrome done in-camera settings? Or, post-processed?

    PS. Considering moving back to an Olympus...thinking 4/3, E-M10 or even M1 if I can stretch to it.
    I'm an old-school OM-1 film guy.(as you'll see from my blog pics - shameless self promotion sorry ;) )

    Cheers, Owen