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Contact sheet #14

Last week end was another one of my popular 3-day photography workshop in central Vietnam and I think I came up with a short contact sheet for you guys.

Here we are going to discuss tilting the frame, layers, and spontaneity when doing people photography. 

While in Lang Co on Saturday afternoon we were, as usual, looking for the fishermen to come back to the shore. There was not so much activity on that day, but if you have ever been there you know that we do not need much in terms of subjects, as everything else, including the light, is usually stunning.


We spotted a boat heading back to the shore. We actually tried to walk to that boat but the water got too deep (I turned back after my belly button got in the water!). So we were ready, feet in the mud, when the boat arrived.

I took that first image, from as high as I could (thanks tilt screen!) in order to separate them from the horizon.


I found a serious lack of dynamism in the image: my eyes could travel from the man on the boat to his son but nothing was really pulling me on the left side of the picture. So I decided to try and play with gravity to help me out.


I will be talking about it more deeply in an upcoming article but the use of tilted horizons often helps me to add the extra dynamism missing in an image. Here the direction both my subjects are taking as well as the body gesture of the boy match the angle in which I tilted the horizon: it seems both are falling into the left side of the image. Plus by waiting for the boy to be a bit further to the left it helps balance both of my subjects on each side.


As they got closer, we started chatting.


It happened to be a father and son who went to fix some of the poles they are using on the lagoon to grow the oysters. The father was sitting on the boat while his son was pushing it back to shore. We greeted them as they arrived and did the small talks to relax the atmosphere. The father actually spent the rest of the afternoon watching us and having fun with these crazy foreigners ready to get wet for their photos.


There was a good light for me to try a single subject composition but I felt the story here wasn’t just about this man, but about the two of them working together. So my goal was from then to try and compose with both subjects. Using layers is a great well to tell a better story, having more than the main character, but some supporting ones. It’s just like a movie, after all, telling a story.

As the man was closer to me than the boy, I felt I would have given him too much visual weight if I had focused on him. So I started with the boy.

It was suddenly becoming more interesting and I made sure that I kept the boy between his father and the boat on the left side, framing him in between. It was alright, but I quickly realized that one of the participants of the tour was in my background.

This is when a Travel photographer needs to be highly responsive. As we often take photos of dynamic situations when photographing people in Asia, we ought to be dynamic photographers. Situations change quickly and we need to respond even more quickly, anticipating the action before it happens, seeing things evolving in the frame and taking decisions in order to keep a good balance and dynamism for our images.

So quickly, I moved my frame to the right to remove the unwanted (you know I love you Belen!) person from the background.


Damn, not my luck, there was another participant heading to photograph some other people on the right side.

And then, as I was starting to figure out how I could frame both subjects a bit tighter to remove things from the background, something struck me on the back of my camera. That man’s smile was so bright that it caught my eyes. Such an honest and friendly smile, it was telling more story than the boy just walking.

So I quickly changed my focus on the man. He would have a lot of visual weight, being very close and being in focus, but I had details I could work on, something that my viewers could spend time looking at. By doing that I only needed to balance the composition with something on the other side. Bring a balance would harmonize the photo but would not take attention away from my main subject.

I think this is the best one of the 3 images I took at that moment. I wish the hat of the man was a little further away from the boat, leaving more space to clearly separate my subjects.

After that, the boy walked too far away and I lost the beautiful smile the man had.


What do you think?




  1. shashi on July 26, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    excellent.let us have more such posts.

  2. Ron Brindley on July 26, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    Thanks Etienne, verbalising your thought process as you take your shots is always very helpful. The smiling man shot is the most appealing for me as well.
    I’m enjoying your Contact Sheets, trying to put your suggestions in practice. I rarely tilt screens (intentionally) but can see the dynamism it provided and will give it a go. I guess, like anything, it’s best to use it sparingly.
    Hoping to see you again, perhaps in 2018. Keep smiling !
    Jenelle & Ron

  3. Paul J. Gardner on July 31, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    Brilliant. The smiling image really works, especially because his cap hides his eyes. The funny thing is that the word ‘Guess’ somehow adds intrigue – maybe because of the blurred background and the kid looking out of the picture?

  4. Bridget March on April 23, 2018 at 11:56 pm

    That a really engaging story. It was fascinating to hear you talk through the process and the whole experience came to life. Thank you Etienne.

    • jarwen-dev on April 24, 2018 at 12:47 am

      Thanks, Bridget!

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