A Poker Hand Ranking of Street Photo Compositions
I thought I’d have a bit of fun when out shooting the street, so I started naming my street compositions according to winning hands when playing cards. So from a truly exceptional hand (a brilliant composition filled with complexity) to the simplest card (a simple snapshot of a straightforward subject).
Read on to discover how to score the winning hands! Mind you, to be a Royal Flush, the photograph has to be pretty special!
Taken in Kolkata at the famous flower market. I’d been going there most days during my week-long stay in the city and one early morning, as I walked under the motorway bridge, this image presented itself to me: beautiful light, almost biblical, and against all common compositional rules in street photography, with the main figure in the center being camera aware. I took just a couple of frames before the grouping split apart.
It’s definitely one of those places that you know one day is going to reward you, and after 5 years and over 20 visits, it certainly paid dividends!
Taken again in Kolkata at the Kalighat Kali Temple. Again I knew this background well and visited it many times and have kept doing so since, but on this one occasion, the three different compositions all came together. And then, to complete the photograph, an Indian lady with a red sari walked through the image filling the space to the left. This composition splits the frame into three or four smaller ones, each with its own story: it’s one of the street photography techniques that can yield great images.
An image taken in Dawei, Myanmar. This was one of those great photography adventures, originally flying into Yangon and then taking a prop plane all the way down to Myeik to then work our way back every few days via Ye, Dawei, and Mawlamyine, taking in the beautiful cultures found well off the beaten track. I’m looking forward to going back someday when the borders re-open to rekindle our memories.
We’d made our way into one of the many monasteries in Dawei where I found this great background with four kids just chilling and a dog lying on the stairs, I stayed there for about 15 mins as the scene developed with dogs wandering through the picture and waited till the whole composition came together.
Four of a Kind
Taken on a photography course in Dallas called Foundation Workshop, probably the best course I’ve ever attended, with two of my mentors being Pulitzer prize winners: Deanne Fitzmaurice and Greg Gibson. It was probably one of the first layered images I set out to take.
Taken in the fish market in Yangon.
Taken in Jodhpur.
An image with a group of three and a group of two taken in Kolkata’s vegetable market. The key to the picture is background selection and then waiting for the elements to come together, such as heads in spaces and a natural decisive moment between the group of 3. This is one of the fundamental street photography techniques to get a successful shot: work the scene, compose ad wait for it to develop.
This image is also taken in Kolkata.
Street Scene Kolkata
The Flush: five people come together. Taken in Dawei on the beach where we were practicing putting heads in the sky and shooting thru creating natural frames. I shot a lot of frames for this image on my Sony A9 and 35mm lens to make sure the ball was captured in its own space.
Five similar people in a group. Taken in Kolkata around the Sudder Street market area. The photo above was a gift with three guys leaning chatting on a poster wall, whereas in the below image the group in the foreground was stationary with a great background and it was a case of waiting for someone to fill the gap. I got the added bonus of a random hand.
Three of a Kind
A bar in Myanmar.
Three workers in Hanoi central park.
Kolkata Flower Market. It’s often fun to challenge yourself and look for different items with one of these street photography techniques of shooting through along with keeping all their heads in spaces. I noticed a lot of the bikes had these huge saddles so tried on several occasions to use the large spring to shoot thru, and patience rewarded me.
I noticed the guy reading the paper and that it was acting as a reflector pushing the light back into his face. I acknowledged him and he let me continue shooting as I waited for the other two people in the temple to make a better composition.
Two men and his son repairing a bike in Yangon. As I approached the scene the kid jumped over his dad and used the wheel to almost hide behind making a great composition. All I had to do then was ensure that the child’s eye wasn’t obscured by the spokes of the wheel.
Sometimes you get lucky. I saw the scene from across the street so crossed over to take the photo and at that moment the cat got up and stretched out making a nice little addition to the three men.
Taken in Nagaland, not strictly street photography but we had arranged this adventure to visit and photograph some of the last headhunters alive. We were really lucky to witness them smoking opium.
Taken in the Kolkata Flower Market using the foreground subjects as a frame and waiting for the right shape to happen, allowing me to capture the secondary subjects behind
Taken in Camden Market relatively early in the day: I saw this great prop hanging from a glasses store so then waited for the right grouping to come into the frame.
A group of two people or a pair of hands. These character hands were spotted in Myanmar along with the twins in matching dresses.
Just a single great image or street portrait in the context of where the person is or what they are doing.
Taken in Kolkata.
Taken in Soho, London where I pre-focused on something at a similar distance, then just moved in and took the picture before he hastily moved on! Pre-focusing is another one of the street photography techniques that allow you to be unobtrusive and fast.
Part of a project I covered shooting speakers corner.
I hope this fun little exercise was interesting and inspirational to you. Happy shooting!
About the author: Mark Seymour is an award-winning wedding and street photographer based in the UK. He has over 30 years of experience shooting at over 1,000 venues across his nation. Seymour has shot for National Geographic and has his work displayed in The National Portrait Gallery in London. He also runs street photography workshops through Shoot the Street. You can find his wedding work on his website. This article was also published here.