Cindy diagonal composition with arms. Ricoh GR II with 28mm and flash, and ERIC KIM COLOR PRESET.
Cindy diagonal composition with arms. Ricoh GR II with 28mm and flash, and ERIC KIM COLOR PRESET.

Practical tips and insights how to make more dynamic, or “edgy” photography compositions.

1. Tilt your camera

They call this the “Dutch angle”, to tilt your camera, to make the picture feel uneasy.

When I do this, I try to connect the diagonals, and the EDGES of the frame.

Secret: DON’T CROP. When you’re composing, don’t look at the center of the frame. Only look at the edges. And connect as many diagonals and edges as possible.

Uji, 2017. Note the edge of the top right frame and bottom left frame and top left frame... all connect quite well.
Uji, 2017. Note the edge of the top right frame and bottom left frame and top left frame… all connect quite well.

Also another tip: use your LCD screen if possible. It’s easier to see the edges of a frame when using an lcd screen, when compared to a viewfinder, which forces you to only look in the center of the frame.

2. Fill the frame

I like minimalism in pictures, but also MAXIMALISM. To shove lots of visual elements in a frame, and filling it, with minimal overlap or distractions.

I often do this by looking at the edges of the frame, filling them, and often using a flash.

Below is a picture I shot from inside a cab with my RICOH GR II and flash in P mode. The flash balances the ambient light inside and outside. And the frame is well filled with visual elements, from inside and outside.

Picture shot from inside cab. Kyoto, 2017.
Picture shot from inside cab. Kyoto, 2017.

3. Shoot weird angles— like unusually high looking down or super low angles.

What we need is more novelty of perspectives. I’ve beem experimenting, and holding my camera up super high, and looking downwards.

Novel perspectives are less boring, and more interesting and dynamic.

For example, here is a very high angle looking down:

For this picture, I shot 30 pictures of Cindy at a shrine in Kyoto. I got down super low with my RICOH GR II, and was lying on the concrete, looking up. I tried to get the edges of the shrine in the frame:

Cindy laughing at red shrine. Kyoto, 2017.
Cindy laughing at red shrine. Kyoto, 2017. Super low angle.

4. Look for diagonal elements

I am really into diagonals as of late for composition. Why?

I’ve been studying a lot of the BAUHAUS and early Masters of Photography, and I love how they experimented with dynamic angles. They bring the pictures to life, and to have more visual force and energy.

I love Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Alexander Rodchenko especially.

Look for diagonals in visual lines in the background. Also, to accentuate the dynamism of your pictures, use a wide-angle lens, like a 28mm.

You can also see diagonals in leading lines:

Diagonal leading line of woman and umbrella. Seoul, 2009
Diagonal leading line of woman and umbrella. Seoul, 2009

Also, see the dynamic tension or okay between a diagonal element in your picture, with your subject.

For example, this plant has a diagonal composition and the diagonal building in the background:

Diagonal leaf, black and white. Hanoi, 2017.
Diagonal leaf, black and white. Hanoi, 2017.

5. Reflections

Reflections are more interesting and dynamic, because of their surreal aspect. You’re not sure what is reality, and what is false reality.

Cindy reflection. Uni, Kyoto 2017

For me, I like pictures which are a bit obscure… and difficult to see what is going on. That is what makes photography and pictures so fun to look at.

You don’t want a visual picture to be too easy to interpret or understand (just like people). Having an air of mystery in your picture encourages the viewer to LINGER on your image, and keep looking.

The longer you can make your viewer look and explore your picture, the better.

Cindy stretching and self portrait of ERIC in Uji Ryokan. 2017
Cindy stretching and self portrait of ERIC in Uji Ryokan. 2017

6. Overlap visual elements

If you want more depth and layers in your pictures, separate the elements in your picture. Avoid overlap.

If you want more fun and surreal pictures, intentionally overlap them.

For example, if you can overlap the visual plane of a man walking (his feet) and make it look like he’s walking on something else (like a fence) you’ve created a visual “hat trick”: a common technique in Street Photography.

Surreal. It looks as if the man is walking on the fence in the foreground. Kyoto, 2017.
Surreal. It looks as if the man is walking on the fence in the foreground. Kyoto, 2017.

7. Curves

Look for curves in objects, people, roads, or things. Curves are the most dynamic and sublime compositions you can make.

For example, study the Fibonacci spiral:

Eric kim mom

eric kim photography black and white hanoi-0009910 spiral fibonacci


Cindy and curve and hand. Saigon, 2017.
Cindy and curve and hand. Saigon, 2017. In this picture, see how I Connected the curve in the top left of the frame
Cindy’s hands, curved in motion. Note her elbows coming out of the bottom left and bottom right of the frame.
Cindy’s hands, curved in motion. Note her elbows coming out of the bottom left and bottom right of the frame.
Outlined in red. Cindy’s hands, curved in motion. Note her elbows coming out of the bottom left and bottom right of the frame.
Outlined in red. Cindy’s hands, curved in motion. Note her elbows coming out of the bottom left and bottom right of the frame.
Cindy curves. Saigon, 2017
Cindy curves. Saigon, 2017. Here she poses with her arms, to curve them.

Examples of leading lines and curves

red-curve-eric kim street photography mood - road composition

curve-red-eric kim photography sapa-2017-0007026 composition

Curves from the masters of photography

Some other examples of curves from the masters of photography to inspire you:

All the curves taking you more and more inwards. Picture by Martine Franck.
Note all of the curves in the image. Picture by Abbas
Spiral composition in Koudelka.
Snake Curve composition in Josef Koudelka.
Note the direction all of these people are moving-- the curve in a circle. Picture by Henri Cartier Bresson.
Note the direction all of these people are moving– the curve in a circle. Picture by Henri Cartier Bresson.

Curves in the real world

Have you ever seen a river that is completely straight? No– they are all curved.
Curved roads give a sense of energy–movement, and motion.

8. Study visual composition outside of photography

spiral imaging

Study everything. You can find great design and art in everyday objects, things, or visual pictures.

This is why I like studying car design… they have the best curves.

Conclusion

Don’t be bounded by “good” or “bad” compositions. Just experiment. The whole world in photography is your visual playground.

Diagonal composition.
Diagonal composition.

Try to make pictures which you perceive to be good compositions. Then seek to DECONSTRUCT your own picture, and ask yourself… why are these compositions good or interesting? Self learning is the best way to learn.

For more inspiration and guidance, IMPROVE YOUR COMPOSITIONS AT ERIC KIM EXPERIENCE >


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For distilled lessons on composition, read the free ebook: “The Street Photography Composition Manual.”

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