Deconstructing Photos

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You have reached the archive of articles posted on my personal blog. This blog is no longer updated, but you can read my latest articles at my new website The Creative Photographer and find my photography ebooks at my new store.

Thanks for reading! Andrew.

Deconstructing photos

One way to become a better photographer is to learn to look closely at the work of photographers you admire and analyse the factors behind the success of their images. This isn’t always easy to express in words. Good photography is subjective and often moves beyond what the conventional ‘rules’ of photography (such as the ‘rule-of-thirds’) advise. But there are certain aspects that you can look for in nearly any image. Try and see it from the point of view of the photographer who created the image. Why do you think he (or she) made the decisions he did?

Photo checklist

Here are some things for you to think about next time you analyse someone’s work (this is to get you going – I’m sure you can think of more). They are based on my idea of the creative triangle – that a great photo is comprised of inspired composition, beautiful lighting and a mastery of the technical aspects of photography.


Why did the photographer use the focal length he did? How would the photo be different if he used a wide-angle lens instead of a telephoto, or vice-versa? (If you don’t know what focal length was used, guess – it’s great practise at deconstructing images).

What aperture did the photographer use? How did this affect depth-of-field? Why do you think the photographer selected this aperture? How would the photo look if there was more, or less, depth-of-field?

What shutter speed did the photographer use? How does this affect the way motion is captured in the image? Why do you think the photographer chose this shutter speed? How would the photo be different if the photographer had used a faster (or slower) shutter speed?


What is the focal point of the photo? Where is it placed in the frame? Did the photographer use the rule-of-thirds? Why do you think the photographer did (or did not) do so?

Colour photos: How did the photographer use colour in the composition? Is the use of colour bold or subtle? Is there a wide range of hues in the image, or just a few shades? Is the image dominated by a particular colour? What is the overall colour temperature of the image – warm, cool or neutral?

Black and white photos: Why do you think the photographer chose to convert the image to black and white (or use black and white film)? Can you picture what it would look like in colour? How strong are the lines, shapes and textures? How much contrast is there?


Where is the light coming from? Is the source daylight, artificial light (including flash) or a mixture of both? From what direction does the light hit the subject?

What is the quality of the light? Is it hard or soft? Has the photographer taken any action to change the quality of the light? How would the photo look if the quality of the light was different?

What is the colour of the light? This is another colour temperature question. Is it warm, cool or neutral?

Analysing your own photos

It’s always easier to objectively analyse someone else’s photos. It’s more difficult to be honest about your own. It’s a difficulty I share, so I thought it would be interesting to ask a friend of mine to write a few paragraphs about some of my photos. I asked him to be honest – you can read what he thought below.

It’s worthwhile searching for somebody to give you honest feedback on your images. If you find someone whose opinion you value, then they can really help you improve your photography. Sometimes all it takes is a someone to point out something that you weren’t aware of to get you to see your photos in a new way, or see how to improve upon them.

Here are the photos that I asked my friend Si Barber to look at. Si is a professional photographer based in East Anglia in the UK. He has some interesting work, you can visit his main website here, his Blackpool Confidential website here and read my interview with him here.

Laguna Hedionda, Bolivia

Laguna Hedionda, Bolivia

EOS 350D, EF-S18-55mm lens @ 55m, 1/60 second, f16, ISO 100

I took this photo on a four day jeep trip through south-west Bolivia. The animals in the distance are Vicuna. The image works well in black and white thanks to the dark mountain in the background, and the horizontal light and dark stripes created by the light and dark tones in the image.

Si says: The first thing that strikes me is how much the 35mm crop suits this type of landscape. A square format would completely remove all the atmosphere.

In fact cropping it even further to a ‘letterbox’ format makes it even more dramatic.

One cant fault the composition or execution and the llama/alpaca by the shore help give it a sense of scale, If the shot was mine I might burn the sky in a little more to draw the eye quicker to the animals.

I also think that this would sell well as a stock image. I would submit the colour version to a general library and the sepia image to a specialist library.

Portrait of Elizabeth

Portrait of Elizabeth

EOS 5D Mark II, EF 85mm lens, 1/350 second, f1.8, ISO 800

This is the newest photo on this page (I took it a couple of weeks ago). My aim was to create some interesting portraits of my model Elizabeth. I asked her to stand inside a red telephone box and shot through the glass. The dirt on the glass adds texture and I used a wide aperture to defocus the background.

Si says: You can seldom go too far astray by plonking a beautiful woman in front of your lens. The minimal depth of field here along with the frosted glass gives the image an air of mystery. I ‘m guessing Andrew used something like a 100mm lens at about f2.8.

I have a few niggles with the composition which I think is too tight for a horizontal shot. Personally I would have pulled back to show more of the neck and shoulder, and tilting the frame down and to the right.

Quibao, Shanghai

Quibao, Shanghai

EOS 5D Mark II, EF 50mm f1.4 lens, 1/90 second, f4, ISO 800

Quibao is a suburb of Shanghai that has some old buildings built around an ancient canal system. It’s a bustling place full of small shops, many of them selling food like these ‘birds on a stick’.

Si says: This is an interesting image as my eye is immediately drawn to the skewers stuck through the eye sockets of the birds. It is quite disturbing when you realise it is food!

The photo has a lot of detail which needs to be rendered sharply, but I can see even from my small version of it that the focus is starting to fall off at the mid-point where it should still be sharp. This could be rectified by stopping down or moving back a little.

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4 Responses to “Deconstructing Photos”

  1. mike says:

    I thought I would add to the comment on composition of Portrait of Elizabeth.
    A few months ago I came apon a classical art technique in a B&H video called the Dominant Eye.
    This portrait exhibits this technique, the eye ( dominant eye ) nearist the lens in the horizontal centre of the frame.
    This technique when down correctly gives the illusion that the eye follows you as the viewer changes viewing angle.

  2. Andrew says:

    Do you have the link to the video Mike? I can’t find it on YouTube.

    • mike says:

      Hope this link works otherwise do a seach for classical art design for photographers on utube.

      or on B&H event space bridging the gap: classical art design for photographers.

      Thee vid is long but well worth watching, let me know what you think

      Mike….still learning during my long retirement.

  3. Thanks, Mike. I will watch this.

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