Shooting Challenge #9 — Stairs

By Martin Snelling on at

Stairs -- unless you're in a wheelchair, bedridden or suffer from bathmophobia (a fear of stairs or steep slopes) they're something most of us use everyday and probably give no thought to whatsoever. But stairs can throw up some fantastic photo opportunities if you allow yourself to see them as something more than just stairs.


The Brief

This week's brief is very straightforward and simple; photograph some stairs. That's it! It doesn't get any easier than that. How you choose to shoot them is entirely up to you. Whether you shoot them from the top looking down, or from the bottom looking up it doesn't matter; just be creative.


The Technique

Stairs and banisters are fantastic at guiding your eyes as they naturally take you somewhere; so make good use of these. Use the stairs or banister to lead the viewer to a point or object in the the picture. Or you could leave the viewer guessing where the stairs lead by hiding the end of the staircase.

Spiral staircases shot from the bottom will give you a great twisting shape, but it's an image that's been done to death (just do an image search on Flickr). If you want to shoot a spiral staircase, do something different; use people or props. One idea I have on the backburner is to create a classic 'noir' murder scene with a twisted leg and a pool of blood being framed by the stairs. If you get the chance, there's a great staircase in Somerset house in London that's worth a visit.

If you're shooting people on the stairs, time your shot so you capture them mid-step; it'll produce a stronger image with a sense of movement and not one that looks like someone is standing still on the step. Use a fast shutter speed if you want to 'stop time' and a slower shutter speed to blur passersby if you want to accentuate movement as they pass through your frame.

Or go completely leftfield and use railings or spindles in a staircase to frame an object or building.

The Example

The example image is part of an ongoing series called "Passing Strangers". It was shot on a Sony NEX-7, exposure to the sky as I wanted to create a strong contrast between the stairs, the people on them and the light of the sky. The series name "Passing Strangers" was born out of a realisation that stairs are never a destination; merely places one passes through on the way to somewhere else.


The Rules

- Submissions MUST be your own work.
- Submit up to five images
- Photos must be taken after the challenge was published; so no existing shots please.
- Minimal image post-processing is allowed (global changes to levels, brightness, contrast and cropping are permitted)
- Explain, briefly in your submission email, the equipment, settings, technique used and more importantly for this challenge, where the image was taken. Please ensure EXIF info is intact (if image was taken digitally).
- Email submissions to, not me.
- Please ensure your image is at least 600px wide and less than 3MB in size.
- Save your image as a JPG, and use the following naming convention FirstnameLastnameStairs.jpg
- Don't forget to include a shooting summary (see above).
- Send your best photos by Monday, 19th November at 6pm UK time with "Stairs" in the subject line.
- Anyone can enter, regardless of location.
- The most important rule — HAVE FUN

Martin Snelling is a Hampshire-based man about town who works in the videogame industry. A keen photographer, Martin shoots on film and digital; he blogs here, and tweets here.