How to make more engaging, edgy, and dynamic pictures:
First of all, what defines photography and picture-making? The frame.
The world is vast and unlimited. Yet, as photographer and visual artists– we put a frame around our own reality.
Painters start with a frame (blank canvas) and then add paint onto it.
As photographers, we start with the unlimited visual world, and put a frame around reality — we decide what we find beautiful and interesting by deciding what to frame, and what to exclude.
I think the secret to great composition is that it must be ‘dynamic.’
I studied a lot of physics (as a hobby), and noticed– all the great compositional shapes and forms (like circles, triangles, and diagonals) are related to potential force– and potential motion.
I also like the concept of ‘Dynamic’ because it reflects life. Life isn’t static. Life is dynamic.
In economics and pricing– I like the idea of ‘dynamic pricing’ — where the prices of goods and services change and meet to suit the supply/demand chain (like how Uber raises prices for their rides during ‘surge pricing’ in order to incentivize more drivers to hit the road, and therefore help more riders get drivers).
Also, the interesting thing I learned is that the etymology of the word ‘Dynamic’ comes from Ancient Greek (dunamikos, which means ‘powerful’). And it is also related to the ancient Greek ‘dunamai’ — which means “I am able.”
Therefore in a sense– DYNAMIC compositions are more POWERFUL. Also, if you look deeper into the word, the word ‘dunamai’ (I am able) — only the strong are able to be dynamic. And as photographers, to make stronger compositions, we must build our visual acuity and strength– to make more compelling images.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication – Leonardo da Vinci
In order to highlight your dynamic compositions, you must keep it simple.
What I mean by that is this– simple background, simple forms, and simple shapes.
The contrast or the juxtaposition between the simplicity of the composition and the dynamism of the composition is what makes it interesting.
For example in ‘opponent color theory‘, you can keep it simple — for maximum effect of color, just contrast two colors:
- Red vs green
- Blue vs yellow
- Black vs white
When you’re starting off to make more dynamic compositions– keep it simple, with a simple background, and just a single subject:
Case Study: Hanoi woman and door
Note the simplicity of this composition– the black and white image, with the silhouette of the woman in the door:
Case study: Silhouette of man at hoan kiem lake, Hanoi 2017
Simple layers: Tuyen Quang, Vietnam 2017
Off-centered dynamic compositions
To make more dynamic compositions, don’t center your subject. Rather, put them off a little to the left or the right of the frame.
Dynamic hand gestures or body language
To make more dynamic compositions in photography, ask your subject to pose for you to get them to do an interesting hand-gesture or to show more expressive body language:
Dynamic, non-static emotions like LAUGHTER make more engaging and powerful pictures:
Inter-relatedness of shapes and forms
Look at some of these diagrams and see how all shapes, forms, and lines are inter-connected. How do circles form triangles? How are rectangles formed?
Dutch angle (tilted camera)
Tilt your camera to integrate the ‘dutch angle’ to your pictures– the dynamic tilt makes the images more off-balance, and more edgy and engaging:
Assignment: Sketch, trace, and draw your pictures after you shoot them
To better understand your compositions, use an app like ProCreate on the iPad, or use Photoshop to trace your pictures, to better analyze and deconstruct your compositions:
Potential of collision
The benefit of shooting with a wide-angle lens (like a 28mm lens) and shooting head-on, is the pictures are more dynamic– because the viewer gets the impression that the subject in the picture might collide with the viewer (ie the photographer).
If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough – Robert Capa
By getting close, you are able to ‘fill the frame’ with your subject– and by getting very close with a wide-angle lens (28-35mm), you feel integrated into the picture. The picture is more dynamic, because it makes the viewer feel like they’re really there– standing next to the subject in the picture.
So if you want more engaging, and dynamic pictures and compositions– get closer. And not only that, when you’re shooting, look at the edges of the frame, and make sure they are clean.
Curves are more dynamic
To have more dynamic picture compositions, integrate curves into your pictures.
Look for curved shapes and forms, or try to have the hands or body limbs of your subject curve:
“Composition must be one of our constant preoccupations, but at the moment of shooting it can only stem from intuition, for if we are out to capture the fugitive moment, and all the interrelationships are involved on the move.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
In photography composition, always think about composition and internalize the concepts of shapes, forms, and dynamism.
Keep your compositions dynamic by tilting your camera, by integrating diagonals, and curves. Keep your compositions simple by getting rid of superfluous distractions and forms from your background.
To improve your compositions, keep shooting, and thinking dynamic shapes and forms. But also remember, to do ‘post-mortem analyses’ of your pictures, to figure out how you can continue to make more dynamic pictures– stemming from your INTUITION and gut.
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Dynamic Photography Composition 101
- How to Visually Analyze Your Photography Compositions
- Dynamic Tension: Opponent Based Theory For Photography
- Opponent Process Color Theory For Photographers
- Dynamic Photography Composition 101: Figure to Ground
Dynamic Photography Composition Tips
- How to Make Aggressive Photography Compositions
- 10 Dynamic Photography Composition Tips
- How to Make More Dynamic Picture Compositions
- Unorthodox Photography Composition Techniques
- Deconstructed: Saigon Eric Kim Photos
Take your composition to the next level:
- Center Eye
- Dutch Angle
- Deep Depth
- Leading Lines
- Figure to Ground
- Fibonacci Spiral
- Composition by Eric Kim
Street Photography Composition 101
For distilled lessons on composition, read the free ebook: “The Street Photography Composition Manual.”
Further articles to improve your compositions in photography:
- Composition Lesson #1: Triangles
- Composition Lesson #2: Figure-to-ground
- Composition Lesson #3: Diagonals
- Composition Lesson #4: Leading Lines
- Composition Lesson #5: Depth
- Composition Lesson #6: Framing
- Composition Lesson #7: Perspective
- Composition Lesson #8: Curves
- Composition Lesson #9: Self-Portraits
- Composition Lesson #10: Urban Landscapes
- Composition Lesson #11: “Spot the not”
- Composition Lesson #12: Color Theory
- Composition Lesson #13: Multiple-Subjects
- Composition Lesson #14: Square Format
Learn compositional theory:
- Why is Composition Important?
- Don’t Think About Composition When You’re Shooting Street Photography
- How to Use Negative Space
- Street Photography Composition 101
- The Theory of Composition in Street Photography: 7 Lessons from Henri Cartier-Bresson
Compositional lessons from the masters of art