When photographers talk about this topic they're either talking about layering when making adjustments in the Adobe Photoshop Program or in the case of a street photographer, then we are talking about layering subjects in the frame of the photograph. 

The best way to do this is have subjects close to you and away from you, now the only lenses that make this possible are wide angle lenses. So some of you may use a 50mm or less possibly a 35mm lens. Using prime lenses is also the best way to get you closer to the subject and the subject matter being captured relatively quicker, prime lenses are great for layering your subjects as they show a shallower depth of field when used for close up subjects, for example when shooting at an aperture of f/5.6 then the subject matter closer to you will be sharper by definition. 

The subjects further away will tend to be slightly out of focus, or blurred. If you were to use an aperture of f/8 then the subject matter further away will become much more in focus, almost level in the frame with the clarity of the subject matter in the foreground. 

This is because the depth of field finds those subjects and the focus point is level, when using a medium aperture. Everything in the frame, will more or less be the same clarity, so by using an aperture of f/11 and a shutter speed of 1/125 this will enable you to have greater clarity through out the frame, the subject matter should be in harmony with each other. 

©David Rothwell Photography 2014

We can see in the example that the majority of the subject matter, is in focus and we can that the layering technique has been used in the background we have interesting subject matter with the text 'THAT AWKWARD MOMENT' along the length of a bus. We then have a pedestrian crossing, and a woman coming into the centre of the frame from the left. 

Whilst the signage acts as an anchor point, the woman on the left forces your eyes to move around the frame, thus creating an interesting composition. In the centre of the frame we see a couple, the woman seemingly pointing in the direction which forces the viewer to view the rest of the frame in fact the right hand side of the photograph, the note in the persons hand in the fore also acts as an anchor point. 

This is the technique known as layering, this simple photograph has enough subject matter to make it interesting to the viewer. The signage also suggests a working title, and the woman's hand at first glance looks like some strangle hold on the guy opposite, however it also suggests another context; the guy asking the woman for directions, he is some-how displaced and lost and needs some form of direction to get where he is going. 

That awkward moment when we need help...

Other guises

Layering comes in many forms for compositional elements, you could use three figures for triangulation or a circle thus shapes come in to play also, if we use five people or subjects for example then we know the photograph becomes much more interesting depending on the context or message we want to convey. 

©David Rothwell Photography 2013
In this example we can see the Alpaca in the foreground, we also see the mannequin in the background almost mirroring the alpaca in colour and texture, we see a small pig in the very bottom third of the frame. This is an anchor point when reading the signage, on the right hand side of the frame, we see two people possibly mother and daughter, out shopping and a well known brand denotes the story there. 

So many things are going on in this photograph, which does make it much more interesting. 

We can see the imaginary line travelling through the frame from the pig, to the mannequin back to the Alpaca to the mother and daughter and the Lego® brand. 
A sort of jagged edge yes, but if you were to imply shapes to the frame then it is almost oval or it could be two triangles back to back. A sort of diagonal takes from one side of the photograph to the other side, these compositional elements are what makes a street photographer's photograph a photograph.

I shall be posting a technique series on my main page, so if you're interested in that or want to suggest other subjects I should cover then get in touch.

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