IMAGE TALK with Noella Ballenger: What makes that photo work…

Silhouettes can be extremely strong compositional eye catchers. By approaching a subject with a minimalist point of view, background distractions can be eliminated and the photographer is then able to place the emphasis on the design elements within the photo. Add action to the silhouette and one can evoke a sense of emotion, drama or suspense. In this month’s IMAGE TALK…, we bring you an outstanding example of a silhouette that meets all of these design principles.

Mid-air Ballet by Sonny Mercurio

© 2013 Gabriel Zane Mercurio (Sonny). All Rights Reserved.

Subject: Worker welding at a construction site

Conditions: Clear sky and late afternoon light.


1. Compelling silhouette with action creates both drama and suspense

2. Center of interest – brightest bright/darkest dark

3. Angle of image makes a “V” shape providing sense of counterbalance

4. A feeling of tension keeps our eye focused on the worker and his action

5. Lines and spaces – positive and negative space work well

6. Black and white scheme creates minimalist impact

Noella’s Comments:

Silhouette photos are a creative way of making a simplistic and dramatic statement, but when you include some form of action an emotional response is added to the mix. If the photographer removes all of the background elements it will make the subject a distinct focal point, and if the structure of that subject is strong, then they can capture the viewer’s eye in a special way. The basic lines that are revealed in Sonny’s image are forceful, but what really captivates the viewer’s attention is the position and action of the silhouetted worker.

The center of interest of a photo is often found where the brightest bright meets the darkest dark. In this image, our eye is drawn immediately to the point where the welding torch burns brightly against the dark structure. Soon after, the eye follows the falling sparks.

The offset angle of the silhouette creates a strong “V” shape and by composing the image in this manner, one gets a sense that this welder has a counter balance, which somehow makes his working environment a little safer. But the sense of tension continues as we look at the position of the worker. Can he maintain his balance holding on with just one hand while balancing on that small bar? There is a compelling tautness in this image as we hold our breath waiting – imagining what could happen next.

Positive space is the object and negative space is the area that the object does not occupy. For a moment, let your eyes focus only on the spaces and not on the worker or the structure. Specifically look at the negative spaces between the worker and the structure. Notice that the other spaces are fairly regular in shape but the negative space between the worker’s body and the structure are very irregular. This is adding to the tension in the image and becomes a dynamic part of the composition. Learning to see and use negative space is important when making dynamic images.

And finally the black and white color scheme makes the total impact of this minimalist composition stronger. Once again, it is the simplified use of all the elements of design that will create a dramatic image.

Congratulations Sonny on a photo that really grabs your attention – very well done.

To learn more about composition and elements of design, visit all the IMAGE TALK… critiques

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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