Let’s break down this image to see how and why it works. I took this image of my little sister Anna (a.k.a Brolan) yesterday while we were rehearsing for our upcoming portrait project. We made about 15 improvised test shots on a coffee shop. I developed the roll the same evening and was pleasantly surprised of the results. Very promising start for our project!

This photo is not only the best image of the shoot, but one of my new all time favourites too. It just works so well. This is also a very interesting image to analyse, because there are several distinct factors that make it work. As I was analysing the image, I though I’d share it with you guys too.

Overlaying lines reveal the underlying composition and structure.
The image as it came out from the scanner.

The form

  1. I love the high contrast in the image. The highlight is placed at the center of the image, which draws attention very effectively and forms the base of the composition.

People always say that you should use the rule of thirds, and not to compose the subject at the center of the image, but to be honest, I think it’s pretty much the laziest and the most over used composition. I at least try to avoid defaulting to it.

2. There are several lines that leads directly to the center of the image. Notice the top edges of the newspaper and how they lead to the face (as well as the top the chair). The newspaper’s center fold also creates a clear line towards the face.

3. The fingers also happen to point exactly to the direction of the face. These lines are composed symmetrically to the corners of the image. They form a strong triangular composition that is very geometric, simple and pleasing. The triangle lays very steadily at  the bottom half of the image. Very strong basic composition.

4. The line of sigh travels parallel to the right side of the newspaper edge. Even though it’s a invisible line, it definitely follows the geometry of the image.

5. Background is simple enough to not to cause distraction. There’s just enough information to give the context. You can tell she’s sitting on a big chair on some kind of room. No elements at the background that would compete with the subject.

6. Narrow but moderate depth of field to create background separation.

7. The tones. God DAMN I love the tones in this image! I shot this on Tri-x, which is my favourite film. I can’t believe how well it retains shadow detail and manages not to blow out the highlight even with a  lighting such as this.

The content

  1. This is an interesting image to look at. There’s something happening outside the frame. What could it be? The photo evokes your imagination and tells a story. What is happening here? What is she reacting to? There’s definitely a small mystery here that awakens the imagination and raises questions. There’s a sense of something happening.

2. This is a dramatic image. Black and white film has an incredible power to create such a drama. It also supports her facial expression and sets a tone.

3. I think the photo has a cinematic feel to it. It doesn’t look like an obvious pose. This could be a still frame from an old movie. Even though this is a posed image, it appears as she’s not aware of the presence of the camera.

4. Hands and eyes are very important. What is she looking at? How is she looking at it? What’s in her hands?

Gear used

The photo was shot with my Leica M4-2 with Summaron 35mm f2.8 lens (wide open) The shutter speed was either 1/15 or 1/30. Film of choice was Kodak Tri-x 400. I used Kodak D-76 developer (standard 9,45min souping time for iso 400—800). Scanned with Epson V330.

The image was very good straight from the scanner and I didn’t come with anything to retouch as such. I cropped the image from the top slightly to mimic a more cinematic aspect ratio. The tones were pretty much perfect for my taste as they were. I’m still thinking about whether to brighten the mid-tones slightly. The left side of Anna’s face is maybe slightly too dark. I would like the left eye to be slightly more visible. Other than that, I’m extremely happy about the photo.