Composition Techniques With a Street Photographer at the Beach

Working with the principles of composition as the foundation for your photos can save you a lot of time and energy in post-processing. If you’re shooting with film, you’ll save a lot of wasted photos. If you’re shooting in digital, you ‘ll save yourself the time and hassle of going through 20 photos of the same scene just to pick the one keeper. In the following video, street photographer Tavis Leaf Glover takes a bit of a wobbly romp through Waikiki to demonstrate how using simple composition guidelines can help you get a great photo the first (or second) shot you take:

Most of know about the rule of thirds when composing photos, but good composition goes far beyond simply aligning your photo with your camera’s rule of thirds grid. Concepts such as the figure-ground relationship, separated shapes, and using counterparts, enclosures, and coincidence to frame the best shot possible will go a long way to improving your photography and narrowing down how many photos you take of each scene. And, while exciting color and humor are the primary attractors to a scene for Glover, if the composition is lacking he saves his film for a better shot.

Figure-Ground Relationship

For example, even though the photo below doesn’t have much going on it, it does have a bit of the color that Glover is looking for. It also demonstrates a great figure-ground relationship, as the subject in the foreground fits nicely into the background.

beach photography

In another example of creating a pleasing figure-ground relationship, Glover uses the bright yellow of the raft to accentuate the girl’s hair, an element that otherwise would have blurred into the sandy background.

figure-ground relationship


Another composition element that Glover frequently has on his mind is that of creating enclosures–triangles, squares, and circles for the most part. Photographing elements in photos into an enclosure allows creates a pleasing shape to our mind’s eye, which will easily fill in the blanks and unify the objects.


Using a triangle to create an “enclosure” with the two men in the foreground and the paddler in the background.

Dynamic Symmetry

Another element that can help organize the elements in a photo (or any art for that matter) is using dynamic symmetry instead of the rule of thirds. Granted, at first it can seem a bit complex, yet the more you work with it the easier it will become. Dynamic symmetry uses the diagonals, verticals, and horizontals from a root 4 rectangle to help create rhythm and unity throughout and image. Below is an example of Glover using it to line up the cones, the man, and the surfboard.


Glover is shooting in film and aims to take no more than one or two shots of any particular scene. His post-processing is also kept a minimum, with no cropping or cloning out distractions.

Equipment Used

Most Frequent Settings used

  • 1/1000
  • f/9.5
  • 7 foot focal distance

Waiting for the perfect shot, composing it correctly, and then limiting himself to just one-two shots takes a lot of discipline but inevitably improves his photography ten-fold and keeps him on the edge of his learning curve. What do you think?

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