Using layers can add volume and depth to your street images, enabling the viewer to find interest throughout the frame and keeping them involved with the image for longer. Layering usually means having a number of separate ‘scenes’ located on different planes within the frame (three is a great number).
Alex Webb uses this technique to great effect, with many of his iconic images being made up of a strong foreground, middle-ground, and background.
Each layer in your image has a part to play and must make a contribution to the overall effect. Your work on building an understanding of how to use layers in street photography will be well rewarded.
Challenge yourself to spend a month looking for situations where you can incorporate three layers into a frame and practice composing in this way. Aim to produce at least 10 ‘final’ images in this style.
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- Use a wide-angle lens (a 28-35mm equivalent is ideal) and have the foreground layer no more than 6 feet (2m) away from you.
- A good technical setup is to focus manually at 10 feet, set the ISO to 1200, and shoot using Aperture priority with the aperture set at f/8.
- Try incorporating negative space around people to add more depth.
- Avoid cluttered groups or overlapping people, as they can become unreadable ‘blobs’ in the image.
- Three layers are ideal, but anywhere between two and five layers can work.
- Don’t worry if a person in the immediate foreground is blurred; this can add depth.
- Read Alex Webb’s wonderful book, ‘The Suffering of Light‘ (Thames & Hudson, 2011) to see how a master of this technique works.
- Using colour in bright, contrasty conditions can produce stunning effects; try shooting at the start and end of the day when the shadows are long.