Indonesian hospital Eric Sugiono

Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 35mm, 1/200sec at f/3.2, ISO 1600

If you believe that being a professional photographer automatically means that someone takes better pictures than a non-professional, take a look at this week’s picture of the week by amateur photographer Eric Sugiono. Falling under the broad banner of documentary photography, this image of ‘nurses in the general hospital of Maumere, Indonesia, changing the dressing of a diabetic ulcer patient’ could easily appear in a weekend newspaper supplement accompanying a story on the Indonesian health system, or a similar subject.

Technically, the shot is very hard to fault, and the exposure is nothing short of perfect – the highlights have been held, and yet the lightness remains in a predominantly white scene that could easily have created exposure problems. However, it is the framing of the shot that I feel is its greatest triumph. What is particularly striking is that all the action takes place at the right side of the frame, and yet the composition is balanced beautifully. If we deconstruct the image we can see that there are numerous elements at work here, all of which help to make the shot.

Rule of thirds: The figures, the trolley and the leg all sit on a thirds line, while the nurses’ heads and the subject’s foot rest on the intersection of thirds. Successful examples of the rule really don’t get much better than this.

Tonal balance: The dark leg and chair at the bottom right corner are balanced by the dark tones at the bottom left. The shading on the walls above both areas is also perfectly balanced.

Figurative balance: The nurses in their matching white outfits and face masks balance each other in the frame, although as the nurse at the right is slightly closer to us we are naturally drawn to her more.

Depth of field: A wide aperture throws the background out of focus, which also means that our eye is drawn to the elements of the shot that are closer to the camera.

Gaze 1: Although she’s slightly out of focus, there’s no doubting where the nurse in the background (left) is looking. Her gaze naturally directs ours, as we want to see what she sees, and this takes us to the subject at the right of the frame.

Gaze 2: The nurse in the foreground (right) looks down at the wounded foot. Again, we naturally follow her eyes down to the (slightly gruesome) subject.

Tonal draw: The dark-to-light gradation on the surgical trolley (running from left to right) also draws our eye to the main subject, allowing us to take in the trolley’s contents on the way.

Colour draw: The red of the bin liner and cushion at the bottom right stands out from the more neutral whites and greys, again leading us to the main point of interest.

Vignette: The corner shading holds both sides of the frame, preventing our attention from drifting out of shot. As well as all these compositional devices that are working to hold and direct our interest, there is also the underlying mystery of the narrative. By excluding the patient from the shot, we are left guessing whether the subject is male or female, old or young. In doing this, Eric has done something that is fundamental to photojournalism/documentary photography: he has engaged us in his photograph. As soon as we start to ask questions about an image we are no longer passively looking at a picture, we are actively involved in it.

In a word, this image is sublime, and that is why I have awarded it picture of the week.

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