Main Exit – dissecting the visual components of a photograph
I often ask myself the question – ‘Why does a photograph interest me and hold my attention for more than a few nano seconds? What are the various components of the image that make it visually appealing to me and maybe to others?’
In answer to these questions I thought I would try and dissect the key elements of this photograph which I have called – Main Exit. Do click on the image to view a larger version as this will help you see all the detail in the picture.
To begin, the image is monochrome; obvious I know, but a colour image of the same picture simply wouldn’t be as interesting. This shot is all about tone, texture, contrast and the overall composition. Colour would be a distraction. There is though a subtle tone which has been applied in post processing, which may not be immediately apparent.
The main focal point is the man in the top right hand corner walking into the building. We can’t see all of his body or his head, but we do see a reflection of his pale jacket and he stands out against the dark background. White on black will always draw the eye. He is framed within a dark square which ties in well with the square crop of the image itself. It’s virtually a picture within a picture.
A square crop doesn’t always work but in this example I think it enhances the overall composition. There is a strong diagonal lead in line from the bottom left hand corner which takes your eye to the main subject of the picture. There are paler lines in the ground which also lead the eye. These are in contrast to the vertical lines of the modern windows. The ground also slopes upwards, so that the metal base of the building narrows to a point where it meets the man. This aids perspective and adds to the sense of depth.
Reflections always provide visual interest because they distort reality. The older buildings are all askew, there is half a car and half a waste bin. Behind the glass there is a person sitting down which begs the question as to what’s inside and the purpose of the building itself.
Top right there is a sign which says ‘Main Exit’ but the arrow points in the opposite direction to the man entering the building – has he gone through the wrong door?
As well as being a contrasty image there is also the visual contrast of the new and old buildings, the young person behind the window and the older person walking through the door. The contrast in texture between the ground and the mirror like surface of the windows.
Lastly a border has been added to provide a frame round the image.
For me it makes a visually appealing image, as the sum of all the component parts make for an intriguing story, complete with different textures and tones, all held together by strong compositional and geometric elements as well.
I have found this exercise beneficial and I hope you have enjoyed my ‘dissection’ of a photograph interesting. Arguably the approach could work just as well on images that you don’t like, as well as the ones that do. It’s worth a try.
2 Responses to “Main Exit – dissecting the visual components of a photograph”
Your critique is spot-on Alan. Square crops are not very common in the images that I see, but they work well as in this example. I particularly like the ‘Exit’ sign and the man disappearing leftwards, and the sense of balance created by the ghostly pair of legs in the bottom left of the image. If you remove those legs, the image loses more than you would think. It’s a fascinating picture, well observed.
Thanks Andy. It’s a complex picture and somehow it seems to have come together. I couldn’t agree more with your comment about the legs of the figure in the left hand side of the frame. They are an important ingredient. Alan.
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