Bringing a D-I-E approach to making street photographs

In Migrate, Street Lessons by Chris FoleyLeave a Comment


"To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work."

~ Mary Oliver


I sometimes find myself able to synthesize a complex concept into a single process or idea. This doesn’t happen very often but I’m generally pretty pleased with myself when I can pull it off. This was not one of those times. I straight stole this.

I borrowed this idea, or rather this way of expressing this idea, from an instructional talk Dotan Saguy gave on the B&H YouTube channel a couple of years ago. He in turn borrowed it from a mentor, street photographer Craig Semetko.

(Don’t let anyone lie to you — there are no new ideas under the sun.)

The idea is a simple shorthand way to recall a semester’s worth of photography instruction with a single acronym. Granted, this shorthand mnemonic device is only the beginning of the exercise - a memory jogger. We still have to then remember to bring all of our creative and technical knowledge to bear on the project; classical composition, lighting theory, choices around depth of field and angle of view, etc, etc.

Saguy says:

There’s a huge need out there. Many non-profits have sub-par and mostly posed images with no storytelling content on their websites. And they desperately need more photo journalistic style visual storytelling and they’re willing to pay for it because it's key to attracting more donors and volunteers. … He [Craig Semetko] had a great teaching that I use everyday when I shoot and when I edit … "D.I.E."

The D-I-E approach is simple: A reminder that in order to create a strong, memorable image you should endeavor to include these three things:

D - Design

Be conscious of the design of your image. Design can include the overall composition, the layering of objects from foreground to background, and your lighting, shadows, plays of geometry, POV (ie: camera position in relationship to your scene) etc.

I - Information

In the words of Dotan Saguy:

You have to give the viewer enough information in the photo to understand what’s going on or to invent a story about what’s going on.

That’s key right there - if you’re not telling a story outright in the image - to empower the viewer to invent their own story about what’s going on.

The image he uses to illustrate this component is this.


E - Emotion

Emotion, inside of this way of thinking can show up either of two ways.

  1. It can reside inside the image, such as in a play of emotion between two subjects in relationship to one another, or the emotion visible on a subjects face.

  2. Or it can be an emotion that gets evoked on the part of the viewer, triggered by the image.

The images I prefer myself, the ones I feel are the strongest, have all three of these components to them.



Hopefully you are in the habit of giving your images a rating inside of Lightroom (or whatever system you’re using to organize and edit your photos.)

Go back through some of your recent images and have a look at your highest-rated images to see if they contain these three D.I.E. components. If not, consider how you might have approached the images differently to work those components in.

Remember, successful application of any of these techniques is hard work, and mastery of any techniques requires that we shoot with as much frequency as possible while keeping these techniques close in mind.

Bonus Resources.


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