How the Show Mr. Robot Inspired My Photography

In my photography I draw a huge amount of inspiration from film and tv series. One of my favourite recent series has been Mr. Robot. This is how this series proved to have a profound effect on the way I compose my photos.

For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Mr. Robot tells the story of a hacker named Elliot, on a mission to destroy the evil corporation E Corp while dealing with some pretty messed up mental problems of his own. I like to describe the series as a mix between the classic Brad Pitt movie Fight Club and the cinematographic production quality of House of Cards.

The storyline, plot twists and general themes of the series are just superb, while the color grading and use of light are insanely well done.

Mr. Robot Composition Analysed

The main aspect I love about this series, though, is the unconventional way many of the shots are composed. As a primer, I’ve included a short video that introduces some of these shots.

My own take on the subject is this: in photography, a very conventional solution to compositing shots is to use the rule of thirds. This is (very arguably) a step forward from what I would consider the most basic and straightforward approach: just pointing the camera straight at the subject and ending up with a photo where the subject is dead center.

The rule of thirds generally just looks good and its use is widespread. I’d say a fair amount of my own photos adhere to this ‘rule’ to some extent.

At some point, though, photographers will start looking for more interesting and exciting ways to compose their shots.

Personally, I’ve found that I tend to go two ways. One: reverting back to placing the subject in the center of the frame can yield a clean and direct frame, focusing attention on the subject with no distractions. And two: placing the subject close to the edge of the frame can add a huge amount of tension and visual interest to the frame.

The second one is where I think Mr. Robot shines.

Subjects in this series are regularly placed near the bottom corners of the frame, often looking out of the frame instead of into the negative space created.

The more conventional approach would be to have people looking into this negative space, giving their eye lines some room. Instead, Mr. Robot opts to have their subjects look directly to the edge of the frame, which in my opinion lends the shots a sense of mystery. Even when you know what the person is looking at or who they’re talking with, this framing leaves some room for interpretation.

Additionally, the placement near the bottom means a huge portion of the shot is filled with the environment the actors are in. In this excellent piece on the series’ composition, the author argues that this puts a lot of ‘weight’ on the subjects’ shoulders and depicts their state of (social) isolation. I would argue that another reason this works so well is that the subjects’ relation to their environment is emphasized.

These aren’t just shots of subjects, instead these are shots of subjects and their environment. For instance, in the shot below, the office tells a lot about the person sitting in the frame, and adds an extra dimension to whatever the character is talking about.

Using the Signature Composition in Mr. Robot for My Own Work

After watching the second season of this series, I was tempted to start trying some of Mr. Robot’s approaches to composing shots in my own photography.

I shoot sports exclusively, focusing on both the action and capturing typical lifestyle moments and portraits. I feel that in sports, many photographers tend to use a very conventional, journalistic approach to shooting the action. Myself, I’m more interested in adding a certain level of tension, trying to add some visual interest and conveying a feeling. I shoot a lot of competition climbing, which lends itself to experimentation quite well.

The following photos were shot during the 2016 World Championships in Paris.

In this first shot, the competitor is looking at the climbing wall and about to give it a go. By not including this wall in the frame, I feel that some mystery is added. We don’t know what the wall looks like, but because of all the negative space behind the climber, we get a sense that she’s intimidated by it. At the same time, due to the lights shining on the competitor and the size of the hall she’s standing in, we get a sense that she’s quite a talented athlete and there could be quite a crowd watching. But again, we can’t know for sure since the ground level isn’t visible.

As you can see, opting for this unconventional composition instead of the more straightforward option where both the wall and the crowd would’ve been visible leaves quite a lot to the imagination of the viewer. I like when a photo invites viewers to try and make sense of what they’re seeing—to interpret the scene instead of instantly being given all the answers.

Another reason I feel that this extreme form of composition works is that it lends the subjects placed at the edge of the frame a certain visual weight.

Try to think of this following photo as a balance. On the one side of the balance we have this huge and heavy lump of black nothingness that comprises most of the shot; on the other side, we have this tiny upper body of a climber. Somehow, when viewing a composition like this, our subconscious will reason that if this small figure is balanced with the lump of black, he must be of some visual importance.

Naturally, a more conventional way to obtain a balance in the photo would be to just place that figure at the center of the frame, filling the frame. By looking for a more unconventional balance, a certain tension is obtained, which in my opinion can make a photo far more interesting.

These next few photos were shot at a local climbing competition in The Netherlands, and show some slightly less extreme examples of drawing inspiration from the Mr. Robot series. Mostly, they demonstrate how having a subject look out of the frame instead of into it can make a shot more interesting and leave some things to the imagination of the viewer.

In addition to trying some of Mr. Robot’s composition, I’ve tried to post-process my photos in a more cinematic style for some time now. This includes cropping to 16:9 aspect ratio (though I’ve recently been experimenting with some more extreme ratios like anamorphic 2.35:1), color grading, and trying to leverage the ambient light to add a layer of visual interest.

I also tried expanding this unconventional style of composing to other sports. I’m excited to explore how the style will translate into the many different sports I shoot on a regular basis.

One thing I try to keep in mind is that this may be a fad. I’ve been through all sorts of periods in my photographic style where I went crazy for a certain style, which later became less pronounced and more subtle. The same may be true for this style of rather extreme composing, which will probably end up being just one of a host of tools I have at my disposal to obtain an interesting frame.


About the author: Bram Berkien is an active lifestyle photographer based in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

(SR5) First image of the new Batis tele portrait prime lens! Is it a 135mm f/2.8?

This is the first image of the new Batis tele portrait prime lens. I know it doens’t really show anything but I am 100% this is the new lens. Specs are still unconfirmed. But there is a fair chance the focal length is 135mm. The lens will be displayed at the upcoming Photography Show in […]

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Is the new Sony 85mm f/1.8 as good as the Zeiss Batis for half the price?

Thats the question Jason Lanier is going to answer in this video! And images are available for download at Jasonlanier.com. The new lense are now also available for preorder in Amazon Europe stores: 85mm f/1.8 FE at Amazon, BHphoto, Adorama. Amazon DE. Amazon UK. Amazon IT. Amazon FR. Amazon ES. PhotoPorstNeuwied. 100mm f/2.8 STF FE […]

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Press text: Nissin is developing next-generation ultra-high heat resistance strobe

Press text: Nissin is developing next-generation ultra-high heat resistance strobe with specially designed quartz tube to mark the new industry standard. Nissin Japan Limited (Chairman Mr. Goto Chikara) proudly announces the development of next-generation ultra-high heat resistance and durable strobe, equipped with specially designed quartz tube. This new strobe is a successor of the high […]

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10 Things I Learned at Fashion Week 2017

Every Fashion Week I learn something new. This is my tenth or so New York Fashion Week by now and I’m still forgetting memory cards, wandering aimlessly trying to find the backstage entrance at Skylight Clarkson, getting kicked out of areas and wondering why Dropbox doesn’t sync faster on Starbucks WiFi.


Editor’s Note: This article was originally written for Adorama Learning Center.


My kit this NYFW included my Nikon D800, 16-35mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4, 24-70mm f/2.8, and 70-300mm f/4-5.6G Nikkor lenses, Nikon SB-910 Flash and multiple trips to CVS for AA batteries. I rented a Sony a7R II with 85mm f/1.4 from Adorama, which I loved so much I shed a little tear when I returned it today.

As a photographer, you are always learning and this fashion week was my biggest learning experience to date.

1. Having more than one camera makes a difference.

This was actually the first fashion week I used more than one camera body. I don’t like to feel overwhelmed by gear and gadgets so I like to keep it simple. I added the extremely lightweight Sony a7R II with 85mm/1.4 to my kit. My 24-70mm on my Nikon is great for runway and first looks, but doesn’t compare to the beauty that is the 1.4. I elevated my beauty work alone with the Sony, a personal goal of mine during NYFW.

2. Some things aren’t worth biting your nails over.

This was actually something another photographer said to me while I was backstage waiting for first looks at Jason Wu chewing on my hot pink nails.

Fifteen plus photographers were crammed in a hallway at the St. Regis Hotel waiting for models to bolt down the hallway in gowns and stilettos. I’m disappointed with the lighting in the hallway and my inability to move around. My back is pushed up against the wall leaving only 3 feet away from the models when they line up. My nerves kicked in and I started biting my newly manicured nails.

She [the photographer] was right. It wasn’t worth stressing over. I couldn’t change the situation. I just would have to make it work. Make a beautiful shot out of a difficult situation. But isn’t that what fashion week is all about?

3. Celebrities are people too.

I know, shocker! Prabal Gurung’s show emphasized femininity with a finale that left viewers speechless.

Bella Hadid led the pack down the runway to a cover of “Imagine” by the John Lennon in a white tee with the text “The Future Is Female.” Matching black and white tees with other sayings quickly followed. I watched Sarah Jessica Parker hug Prabal Gurung post show. They both turned their backs to the cameras as they shed tears.

SJP posed for a couple shots after wiping away tears. She turns to the photographers and says, “He’s all yours gentlemen.” The pauses and turns to me and says “and ladies.”

4. Welcome to “Photographer Humiliation Month.”

We often get told we have access to one thing and then it changes or that we only get 15 min backstage and nothing more. Pushed and shoved in tight quarters all day to get THE shot.

I learned, however, that photographers have each other’s back during fashion week. We might all be kicking each other out of the way to get the photo, but when push comes to shove [literally] I can count on the backstage vets to have my back.

5. Don’t shoot just to shoot.

I use to photograph everything backstage. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you need to shoot it.

6. Eat the catering.

I always forget this one. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but when no one is looking I sneak some of the leftover snacks and drinks into my bag on my way out the door. Essential fuel for editing. (Coach had insane chocolate chip cookies with salt on top and Thakoon had cute Rosé in a can).

7. Take on personal projects.

Just because your editor doesn’t want you to shoot runway, doesn’t mean you can’t. This fashion week I made GIFS for clients. I always have fun making them because they showcase my images in a new way and break up my coverage by adding movement.

8. If you see Anna Wintour, immediately click the shutter.

I try to shoot and not think during this one because the more I over think it the more I panic she will say something to me. So I shoot then run.

9. If you can’t find moments, make them!

Ask models to twirl, hold up the bag, and make a silly face. Talking with the models and getting to know them will help you know their personality and as a result know how to direct them in images to get the photos you want.

10. Have a little faith.

I have always been a half glass empty kind of girl. Maybe it’s the perfectionist in me always striving to do better.

Three days or so into NYFW, I was over it. Ready to quit. I hated the photos I was taking. They felt repetitive and old. I was striving for something fresh. Even though I was getting lots of “likes” and “regrams,” I wasn’t happy. I was trying to stay away from the “chaos” and makeup/backstage photos I tend to crutch on.

It wasn’t until Proenza Schouler’s show that I felt like I was producing the work I wanted. Black cords lined the dingy floor of Skylight Clarkson with brick white walls. My face lit up instantly. Sometimes I need to remind myself that not every show will be amazing. I won’t love everything I shoot. But if I leave fashion week with at least five great photos I am proud of, then I’m golden.


About the author: Alyssa Greenberg is a New York and Boston-based fashion photographer. To see more of her work, head over to her website or give her a follow on Instagram. This article also appeared here.

New Sigma available for preorder at BHphoto

The Sigma lenses do not come in A or E-mount but you can use them with the MC-11 adapter on any E-mount camera: Sigma 135mm f/1.8 at Bhphoto and Adorama. Sigma 14mm f/1.8 at Bhphoto and Adorama. Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 at Bhphoto and Adorama. Sigma 100-400mmm at Bhphoto and Adorama. Reminder: You save up to […]

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