SE Asia with Camera

Learning to See With Your Camera

A Mini Series About Photo Composition & Lighting

Learning to See: Photo Composition will help you achieve whatever goal you have in mind for that image and the final product you want to produce: a historical record, nature photography, journalism, fine art, travel, story telling. Whatever interests you. I use photography to learn about the world. 

Thomas Levine has been a professional photographer for over 27 years during the past 4 years has traveled SE Asia and is till exploring and taking more photos. Join Thomas’s To Follow my travels in Asia – FaceBook:  Travels Posts or Photography Posts. LinkedIn

Street Photography – © Thomas Levine Photography All Rights Reserved

Everyone loves to see what it’s like in other parts of the world. With the advent of digital and smart cameras,  Street Photography has become very popular for any traveler who is looking to tell a story with their camera to share on social media, and/or for their own memories.

photo composition: line and space, Cambodia Countryside,
Chinese tourists are getting a tour with water-buffalos pulling carts in Cambodia.

The principals of composition apply whether you’re using a smart phone camera, DSLR, or a mirrorless camera. Creating a photograph is not the same as taking a picture.  There’s different uses for photography, fine-art photography, journalism, and travel photography to name a few.

Travel photography should tell a story of an adventure, show off an area, or a catalog of your trip.  There’s luck, and then there’s skill, and there’s also the fact that the best lighting may not be available at the time you are at a particular place. When it comes to lining up the photographic elements that may be the only thing you can control, and even that is related to time.  

Using photo composition is a skill that can improve with practice, whether its traveling, at home in your back yard, taking a photograph of a friend or relative, or a plate of food. If you follow the composition rules,  you can create great street photographs, and it’s a lot of fun.

Creating Well Composed Photographs

Create Great Street Photographs will illustrate a few simple composition elements, and how using them will help grab the viewer’s attention. First, define your subject. What are you trying to tell the viewer? It’s also important to direct the viewer’s eye by using composition elements such as color, separation, line, and space.  Using these elements will go a long ways to helping you define your subject. With street photography, its important to take lot of pictures until the elements fall into place. The use of color not only adds emotions, but it helps to separate some of the elements in the photograph. (More about that further below.)

This image below has space, separation and provides a well defined subject, the wares on this wagon. I left space in front of the vehicle and the green trees separate the subject by contrasting colors.

photo composition: line and space, Cambodia Countryside,
This reminds me of Mr. Haney from Petticoat Junction, a tv programs from years ago. The subject is very clear, its the wagon and what’s on it. (Countryside road in Cambodia.)

LINE: Art Element

Notice how the photograph below uses Line and Space. Moving the camera in close helps show more detail, and in this case established the subject. The foreground contains the subject, creating the largest idol in the group. It’s the first one that grabs attention, then the viewers eye looks down the line as the idols get smaller and smaller. This adds depth and also creates the line that grabs the viewer’s attention. It also establishes a relationship between the foreground statues, and the background statues. Line is a very strong art element.

photo composition: line and space, bali idols,
These statues are sitting in front of the entrance and are part of a Hindu temple, photographed outside of Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

This is an example of Space and Separation both are both important, but both are very different from each other, yet related. Understanding how to use these elements will go a long ways toward improving your photographs. The first image is the largest and most noticeable first, then as your eye naturally wants to go left, you see the diminishing size of the other statues. 

Street Photography 

This is a conical hat peddler, literally! He sales directly from his bicycle. There are many scenes in Vietnam cities with people selling fresh fruit, sun glasses, hot food, you name it, there’s someone out there selling it. 

photo composition: line and space,


Create Great Street Photographs, photo composition: line and space

Create Great Streets Photographs

You want to capture the culture that you see on your travels. How different is this from where you live?  What are some of some easy cultural differences to look for?  Clothing, transportation, occupations, and the architecture.  Some areas are more conducive for street photography then others. But like all photography, getting creative and using perspective makes it so almost anywhere has great possibilities.

Because much of  SE Asia is warm, and many cafe’s in the open air. In Hoi An this is beginning to change. I can get hot here and theirs no escape unless you go back to you air-conditioned room. Most people are out on the streets and sidewalks and in open air cafes which makes photo opportunities for travel photography. 

photo composition: line and space,
Open Air Cafe in Hoi An, Vietnam. I photographed this from the street in the morning when the light was bright yet indirect.

Tourism is big in Vietnam and photographers often find interesting subjects that make great human interest travel photographs. It’s about finding the right mix of people, with locations that are not too busy while at the same time defining your subject. I find that the culture dictates what you want as your subject. You will see things in Asia you don’t ordinarily see in other parts of the world. Define your subject or the viewer will lose interest, and any story you want to relay, is lost because the photograph loses its impact.

Define Your Subject

A good photograph must have a subject, and the viewer needs to understand what the subject is. Your photograph should lead the viewers eye to that subject. It’s kind of like a movie. There’s the star (your subject) and then there’s supporting cast (everything around your subject. The main subject (star) is in the center, and the supporting cast would be the motorcycle on the left, and the man walking while the tourist getting a ride on the right.

Create Great Street Photographs, photo composition: line and space
There is quite a bit going on in this photograph but the lady with the conical hat is clearly the subject. If the scene is too busy, the photograph wouldn’t work, but there’s separation between the people. The most interesting part of the photo is the lady with the bicycle. She is not only the most colorful and the closest to the camera  but the largest too.  Centering the subject works in this photograph, but good composition isn’t about centering, it’s about balance. Space is very important! Hanoi, Vietnam


Secrets to Great Street Photographs, photo composition: line and space
Contrasts in color can help separation.  The lavender shirt the lady on the left has on helps define her as the subject. Not only can color help separation, but the amount of the frame she occupies compared to the others in the frame helps too. Behind this lady is a red tricycle taxi, the red is almost an opposite color and defines the subject in front. This is what I call color separation.

Subject Actions Help Tell a Story

Street Photography with people, action can help with your subject tell a story. It informs the viewer about the culture and makes the photograph more interesting. What is your subject doing? Let the viewer think about this. Use a higher shutter speed if you need to freeze the action. Have your camera ready and if you think there’s motion, decide on the best shutter speed. Do you want to freeze the action with a faster shutter speed or show some blur. After you take a few photographs, make adjustments such as your perspective or your aperture or shutter speed. Often there are two or more types of photographs that can be obtained in the same scene. Try thinking ahead when you start out for the day, make adjustments as you go.

Create Great Street Photographs, photo composition: line and space

Create Great Street Photographs by showing something that is new to the viewer. It’s great when the viewer begins to ask questions about a scene, especially when there is a difference in cultures for the viewer. In the photograph (above) this lady is involved in burning trash in front of her store in Hanoi, Vietnam. This is not unusual in Vietnam, but in many western cultures this practice is not permitted in the city. The more one travels, the more you notice the differences in cultures. Travel Photography is fun and it’s fun to show others too what you see around you.

People, Places or Things Can be Your Subject

My definition of Street Photography  can be anything that is close to street, shows the culture of the area, and is interesting or artistic. This includes not only what’s on the street, but the sidewalks, and  areas adjacent to the street.

photo composition: line and space,
There are unlimited subjects when it comes to street photography.

Space is Important

Practice using your patience, because not everything will fall into place unless you work at it. Patience is a virtue, especially with photography. If the scene is too busy, or if there isn’t enough space between people or vehicles, the photograph can lose its impact. People were walking in front of the store (photograph below), and I had to wait until they were all out-of-the-way, it was a busy street. Magically all the people, bicycles and motorcycles that were in the scene disappeared just as the man gives a warm embrace to the little boy. Looking for human interaction will improve your travel photography.  Hoi An Ancient City, Vietnam.

Create Great Street Photographs, photo composition: line and space
This is an unusual image in that the subject is on the far right, and the viewer has to search for the subject. Centering the subject is not necessary, it depends on balance and composition. By having the man and little boy in this image, it adds emotion and this is what defines this image.
My tour guide has some fun on a bamboo swing at Mau Cave entrance, Ninh Binh Vietnam. The length of the swing is emphasized by showing a lot of space on top.

© Thomas Levine Photography

Thomas Levine is a fine arts and travel photographer as well as an educator. His background is varied and he’s spent years photographing advertising products for national publications including: architecture, products, people, food, fine art, nature, now travel.

Currently traveling in Asia creating images for Coffee Table Travel Photography Books and their companion Travel ebooks. 

 To see more of his work and bio