Vivian Maier – Composition Tips Part Three

Wow, so much from one single image! It is not in Maier’s typical grittier style. The image gains a dreamy quality from the lack of importance placed on image sharpness. Focus is not always necessary to create an aesthetically pleasing image. Think Robert Capa on D-day…

Find Portals to Another Time

Whilst it was probably taken at the time when the elements were fresh and modern, I love this image because of the “time capsule” feel it has. The dress and the car instantly date the photo – giving you a window into the past.

369609361_0c17a4a376_oThere is an “urban elegance” to the image.

Finding unexpected opportunities to visit the past when you are out walking are rare, but always welcome. One of my favourite all time images was one I spotted in Oakland USA. I had decided to take my Holga with me to work for a whole day and capture different things that I saw.

I was out looking for a place to have lunch and this car lurched by – and in front of a old school architecture “Bank of America”. The holga style combined with the setting to create an instant window to the past.

Keep an eye out for reminders of the past.



Isolate subjects against plain, non-distracting backgrounds.

Very similar (if not the same as) to the concept of figure-to-ground ratio. Is the subject clearly definable and obvious against the background. The concept goes back to why you don’t wear busy shirts with busy shorts… Wear one busy and the other plain to avoid a fashion implosion as people cannot work out where to look.

Maier isolates her subject by contrasting the white dress with the darkness of the night, obscuring the background detail to make it simpler and less distracting. It also brings the presence of the car into the viewer’s observation, without overtly drawing attention away from the subject. I did not even notice the car on first viewing, flicking through the book.

The subject is lit from above, casting a contrasting shadow underneath the subject – a dark “halo” of sorts.

Suggest a destination for the subject.

The car in the image reveals itself in the image slowly. At first, it is just a background that seems distant to the subject. But then my mind started to make the connection. The subject in the party dress is heading towards the car, raising questions in the viewer’s mind.

Who is waiting in the car for her?

Is it the end of the night or is it only just beginning – is she on her way home our on the way out?

Where is she headed?

Her isolation also makes the car seem slightly sinister. Being such a feminine dress, the natural conclusion I drew from it is that someone is going to be driving her. Or is she driving herself? So many questions.

The suggestion of a destination for the subject creates a single panel story for the image, inviting the viewer to think more deeply.

Click here to read part one.

Click here to read part two.

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