This article is based on concepts from The Photography Action Cards if you want to dig deeper for further training.
There is something magical about doorways and the inspiration that comes with wanting to photograph them.
This doorway, pictured below, was captured while hiking the Blue Path in Italy, from Monterosso to Vernazza, along the gorgeous Italian Riviera in Tuscany.
It is one of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of fascinating doorways that I’ve photographed in my lifetime.
Doorways seem to inspire virtually everyone, from entrepreneurs to actors and even politicians.
“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney
“I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I’m not afraid to look behind them.” – Elizabeth Taylor
“We must open the doors of opportunity. But we must also equip our people to walk through those doors.” – Lyndon B. Johnson
A common way to photograph doors is to visually relate local culture to someone who may never have visited that place.
Before writing this article, I researched what other materials already existed on the topic of photographing doors.
There were numerous tips with the same usual, boring suggestions, such as shooting during the golden hour, using the rule of thirds, straightening the perspective, etc.
I will take a different approach and hone in on some specific guidelines and things to look for when photographing doors.
- Doors that lead to unusual backgrounds
- Door comparisons
- Door details
- Open doors vs. closed doors
- Doorways with a focal point
- Entries with a distinctive design
- Looking inward or outward through a door
- Determining if your composition supports the door as the subject of your photo
- Dealing with glass
Doors with an Unusual Background
Pro tip: If your concept for a door photograph includes telling a story, consider what’s beyond the door.
A doorway is often thought of as a pathway to something new or different. Including unusual elements in the background of your door photography is guaranteed to get more views and likes because it includes a story element.
When searching for doors to photograph, keep an eye out for doors that are close to each other.
You can often find interesting photographic juxtapositions using this technique.
- Dissimilar sizes or oddly similar sizes
- Repetitive or non-repetitive shapes
- Repeating colors or color contrast
Try This Out:
Grab your camera and go out for a photo walk on a weekend afternoon and evening. Concentrate on finding doors with interesting backgrounds and using door comparisons. Try to tell a story with the doors you find and these techniques.
Focusing on the details of a door is a fun way to explore this subject.
The image above exemplifies a significant problem with door detail photos: a poorly composed image.
In a photograph of door details, composition is crucial!
Let demonstrate this to you.
It was the details in this door that attracted the photographer to create an image. However, the composition falls flat for several reasons.
The photographer composed this shot in a horizontal format that places the door handle on the rule of thirds cross point.
This positioning would indicate that they wanted the door handle to be the final resting spot for a viewer’s eyes.
However, in this composition, the door handle becomes lost; it almost disappears. Plus, the negative white space to the right carries substantial visual weight and draws the eyes away from the door.
Critical Thought: When photographing door details, think about where you want the viewer’s eyes to land when exploring your photo.
This vertical crop tells the same story as the original but eliminates the distractions. The eyes solidly rest upon the door handle in this composition.
As the photographer, if you were determined to create a horizontal-format photo, how about this as an option? Again, the elements are all there, but the composition is simplified.
Key Thought: Before clicking the shutter-release button, study the door, and pick out how you can emphasize the critical elements. In this example photo, the photographer used the high-key technique to pull the eyes right toward the keyholes.
What Can You Use for Emphasis in Door Detail Pictures?
- Paint color
- Cracked or chipped paint
- Overall texture
- Door design including unusual shapes
- Tone variations
- Light and shadow
Now it’s Your Turn
I want you to go out and photograph door details. Use the above composition suggestions to create a path through your photograph to a final resting spot. Be sure to present your work to others and see if your theories work out.
Open versus Closed Doors
An open door sends a distinctly different message from a closed door. When possible, consider the alternatives. Perhaps open the door to see what’s behind it.
A Fun Project!
Photograph some doors that you can open and close. Photograph these doors in both scenarios. See if you can alter the mood of the image simply by changing the position of the door. Check the result with others to see if they catch your intent.
Doors with a Focal Point
Focal points are valuable for door photography. They can pull the eyes directly toward the door, even in a much broader and more elaborate environment.
Pro Tip: Motion in, around or near your subject door will plant viewers’ eyes right onto it!
But beware of this pitfall!
It’s easy to place a focal point in a manner that draws too much attention away from the door. When this happens, the doorway loses its standing as the subject.
That is the case in the above photo. The woman has overwhelmed the doorway as the subject.
This photograph is an exquisite example of a focal point that attracts immediate attention to the doorway but doesn’t overpower the door as the subject.
Go ahead, give it a try
Take some door photographs with a focal point included. Try different things. Try using motion, people, animals, flower pots or whatever else comes to mind. Practice emphasizing the focal point while making sure that the door remains the subject.
Does your composition support your doorway as the subject?
Are you making sure that the doorway is the subject of your photograph? This photo element is likely one of the most challenging aspects of door photography—if you’re doing anything other than merely framing up a doorway.
The composition can become convoluted reasonably quickly.
Crucial Point: The ability to dissect your door image within your mind, and analyze the composition quickly, is an excellent skill. Think about your picture as a puzzle. Before you click the shutter release, dissect the puzzle pieces.
Let me show you what I mean.
Pro Tip: Before taking your door picture, dissect the elements that you’ve included in the frame and think of them like puzzle pieces, as I’ve done above. This technique can be accomplished in your head, but if you’re new to the idea and find it hard, you can also sketch it out on a piece of paper or on your computer.
Does the door have enough visual weight to stand out against the other pieces of your puzzle?
In the above scenario, I would say it does not.
I’ve completed the same procedure for this wintery garage door scene below. This image is a busier composition than the first example. Yet the door is better positioned to be classified as the subject through color contrast and the frame’s division.
Dealing with Glass
Nothing will muff up your door photo faster than an ill-placed reflection in the glass of a doorway. In the above example photo, you can barely tell where the door is located!
Tips for dealing with glass:
- Choose your camera angle carefully to control what reflects in the glass
- Use a reflection to help tell a story with the door
- Come back to the door at a different time of day when the lighting prevents reflections
- Try using a polarizing filter. This scenario is the exact situation when polarizing filters help
Photographing doors is rewarding and a great way to add some creativity to your portfolio.
Keep these points in mind:
- Try to include a storytelling element when possible
- Check beyond the door. Is there an unusual and exciting element that could be included?
- You don’t always have to show the entire door or too much of the surrounding area
- Door comparisons are very compelling photos, if you can spot them
- Door details make beautiful pictures. But, make sure you analyze the scene for the best composition
- Consider the emotional aspect of a door being open versus closed
- Focal points are a powerful tool for door photography—just make sure that the focal point doesn’t overwhelm the doorway as the subject
- Dissecting a door scene into puzzle pieces is a great way to analyze your picture before taking it
- Pay careful attention to the glass. Make the reflections work for you and not against you. You can always return at another time or try out that polarizing filter you carry around in your kit bag
About the Author:
Kent DuFault is an author and photographer with over 35 years of experience. He’s currently the director of content at the online photography school, Photzy.
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