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Silhouette Frame Composition: A Way to Spotlight the Mundane

One of the biggest tests of a photographer’s eye is to take a completely ordinary scene and transform it into a compelling image, right there on the spot—no artificial lighting, no image manipulation, no special effects. That’s where composition technique and being able to take advantage of light, shadow, contrast, and lines prove valuable. A street photographer breaks down her shot and shares the art behind this image of laundry hanging out to dry. Try out this technique on your next photowalk. (Reported by: Ikuko Tsurumaki, Digital Camera Magazine)

EOS M100/ EF-M11-22 f/4-5.6 IS STM/ FL: 11mm (18mm equivalent)/ Aperture-priority AE (f/8, 1/800 sec, EV -0.3)/ ISO 100/ WB: Shade



I shot this while walking around a quaint old street in a residential area in Venice, Italy. The sight of the laundry strung out to dry between two buildings made me feel nostalgic, and the harsh shadows created by the strong summer sun made the scene look even more impactful. Although it was so mundane, it told such a compelling story of everyday life in summer in Venice that I couldn’t resist documenting it.

The challenge
Mundane subjects like the line of laundry are easy to overlook precisely because they are so ordinary. I needed to make it the centre of attention, and the dark shadows of buildings that were cast on the street provided the perfect tool.


Focal length choice: Why use an ultra-wide angle?

My main intent was to show the way that the laundry was being dried. I wanted to capture the surrounding buildings because they are important to the context, but I also wanted the laundry to have at least as much presence.

So I played different focal lengths, trying to find one that could capture the laundry large and clear, but still give a sense of the surrounding context. Ultimately, the best angle of view turned out to be at the widest end of my wide-angle zoom lens, which achieved the 35mm full-frame equivalent focal length of 18mm. The ultra-wide angle helped to enhance perspectives and create depth, as we shall see later in this article.


What is the silhouette frame composition?

If the scene includes dark shadows, placing them at the edges of the image creates a framing effect. This composition technique can increase the sense of presence of subjects that would otherwise have blended into the rest of the scenery.


How I applied this

A: Surround the subject with the shadows from the buildings
B: Place the subject in the centre to grab the viewer’s attention
C: Use the line formed by the street to create depth
D: The diagonal line that separates light and shadow adds greater depth

A: Surround the subject with the shadows from the buildings

This was my silhouette frame. I composed the image so that the shadows surrounded the subject on 3 corners, while the subject is in the light. The framing effect leads the user’s eye to the string of laundry in the centre.

Be bold and incorporate as much shadow as you can. This will create a stronger contrast with the tiny area in the light where your subject is, making your subject stand out more. The result: an image with greater impact.

No framing effect

There are too many shadows here, and they aren’t being used to complement the line of laundry. This makes the shot look like an ordinary snapshot with little impact.

B: Place the subject in the centre to grab the viewer’s attention

Placing subjects in or near the centre of the image is the most direct way to tell viewers, “This is what I want you to look at”. This is a technique that could easily result in a string of boring images, so it really depends on how you use it. Here, the relationship between the main subject and its surroundings captured by my wide-angle lens adds more interest and meaning to the shot.

C: Use the line formed by the street to create depth

I took the shot from the end of the street, intentionally finding a spot where the street would form a diagonal leading line. This enhances perspective and gives the scene more spread and greater depth. I also placed the silhouettes created by another line of laundry further down the street right where the vanishing point is. This ties the entire composition together and gives it balance.

You may be interested in:
24mm Closeups: 3 Simple Exercises for Mastering Wide-Angle Perspective

D: The diagonal line that separates light and shadow adds greater depth A picture containing text

The direction of the sunlight placed the row of buildings opposite in sunlight while casting deep shadows on the street right in front of me. This created very strong contrast in the frame. When I was framing the shot so that the shadows would frame the line of laundry, I also adjusted the composition so that the light and shadow areas each took up about half of the image along a diagonal line. This line also helps to add depth and dimension to the image.


For more tips on how to make ordinary everyday scenes look extraordinary, see:
How to Capture Fascinating Images of Ordinary Things
Handling Natural Light: Deepening Shadows to Spotlight the Road Home
Telephoto Landscapes: Contrasting Stillness with Movement
Sunrise, Sunset: Achieving Dramatic Contrasts in Street Photography

More important street photography concepts in:
How Do I Use Colour Accents to Draw Attention to a Subject?
Gestalt Theory in Street Photography


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Ikuko Tsurumaki

Ikuko Tsurumaki

Born in Tokyo in 1972, Tsurumaki started learning photography while working with an advertising agency, and became a photographer after her career as an assistant. She is currently engaged in activities including photo shoots for magazines, writing articles, and conducting photography lectures and seminars.