How to make more engaging, edgy, and dynamic pictures:


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The frame

Divide your frame into three parts. 1 (vertical on left of the frame), 2 and 3 as other sub-divisions.
Example frame: Divide your frame into three parts. 1 (vertical on left of the frame), 2 and 3 as other sub-divisions.

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.


Dynamic

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.


Simple

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.

Opponent based color theory. Opposing colors become more intense when placed next to one another.
Opponent based color theory. Opposing colors become more intense when placed next to one another.

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:

Silhouette of woman behind door. Hanoi, 2017
Silhouette of woman behind door. Hanoi, 2017
Gaussian blur effect. The woman in the black silhouette pops out from the background.
Gaussian blur effect. The woman in the black silhouette pops out from the background.
Composition of the silhouette of the woman outlined in red.
Composition of the silhouette of the woman outlined in red.
Abstract of the 'figure to ground' relationship of the picture.
Abstract of the ‘figure to ground’ relationship of the picture.
Chiaroscuro. DYNAMIC LIGHT AND SHADOW. Hanoi, 2016 by ERIC KIM
Woman and door. Chiaroscuro. DYNAMIC LIGHT AND SHADOW. Hanoi, 2016 by ERIC KIM

Case study: Silhouette of man at hoan kiem lake, Hanoi 2017

Chiaroscuro. DYNAMIC LIGHT AND SHADOW. Hanoi, 2016 by ERIC KIM
Chiaroscuro. DYNAMIC LIGHT AND SHADOW. Made with iPad Pro and Procreate app.Hanoi, 2016 by ERIC KIM

Chiaroscuro. DYNAMIC LIGHT AND SHADOW. Hanoi, 2016 by ERIC KIM

1-hanoi lake eric kim street photography contact sheet

Simple layers: Tuyen Quang, Vietnam 2017

Simple layers:


Off-centered dynamic compositions

Woman going down escalator and flash. Tokyo, 2017
Off center composition of woman on far right of the frame. Shot on an escalator at the mall.

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:

Woman flexing bicep in red bikini

Leica MP + Leica Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH + Kodak Portra 400

New Orleans, 2015
New Orleans, 2015

Dynamic emotions

Dynamic, non-static emotions like LAUGHTER make more engaging and powerful pictures:

Laughing lady eric kim. NYC, 2015

Laughter: One of the most dynamic emotions.
Laughter: One of the most dynamic emotions.
Woman laughing. NYC, 2017. Pentax 645Z
Lagging

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:

Man walking up stairs, and looking nack. Dynamic diagonal lines and composition. Tokyo, 2017
Tilted picture of man walking up stairs. Tokyo, 2017

A picture of myself holding an umbrella. I shot this with my RICOH GR II while tilting my camera, to accentuate the diagonal lines in this picture.
Tilted camera to make a diagonal. A photo of my hand, umbrella, and yellow lines on the ground.

Tilted street photograph in Tokyo, of a triangle composition (man in bottom left, man on top right, and advertisement in top left)


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:

Diagonal lines outlined.
Man turning back on stairs. Ueno, Tokyo 2017
Man turning back on stairs. Ueno, Tokyo 2017
Simplified illustration of off-center street photography composition.
Simplified illustration of off-center street photography composition.

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).

Man and woman walking with umbrella. Shibuya, Tokyo 2017
Man and woman walking with umbrella. Shibuya, Tokyo 2017
Women walking in Omotesando, Tokyo 2017
Women walking in Omotesando, Tokyo 2017

Old people in elevator. Tokyo, 2017

Man shot with flash in mall, with two people behind him, making triangle. Shibuya, Tokyo, 2017
Man shot with flash in mall, with two people behind him, making triangle. Shibuya, Tokyo, 2017
Street picture with Akira Kurosawa movie poster in background. Tokyo, 2017.
Street picture with Akira Kurosawa movie poster in background. Tokyo, 2017.


LEARN FROM THE MASTERS OF PHOTOGRAPHY BOOK


Getting close

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.

Walking woman. Kyoto street photograph, 2017
Walking woman. Kyoto street photograph, 2017

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.

Furthermore, don’t crop your pictures. By making a rule to yourself not to crop your street photos, it will force you to get close when you’re shooting street photography.


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:


Conclusion

Composition spread from LEARN FROM THE MASTERS OF STREET PHOTOGRAPHY BOOK
Composition spread from LEARN FROM THE MASTERS OF STREET PHOTOGRAPHY BOOK

“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.

BE DYNAMIC,
ERIC

LEARN THE SECRETS OF DYNAMIC COMPOSITION AT ERIC KIM WORKSHOP >

Download PDF: Dynamic Composition Grids ERIC KIM


Learn from the masters of photography

LEARN FROM THE MASTERS OF PHOTOGRAPHY
LEARN FROM THE MASTERS OF PHOTOGRAPHY

Learn from the wisdom of the master photographers >


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Photography Composition 101

ERIC KIM X ANNETTE KIM X BAUHAUS REMIX

Dynamic Photography Composition 101

Leading lines. ERIC KIM DYNAMIC COMPOSITION
Leading lines. ERIC KIM DYNAMIC COMPOSITION

Dynamic Photography Composition Tips

Chiaroscuro. DYNAMIC LIGHT AND SHADOW. Hanoi, 2016 by ERIC KIM
Chiaroscuro. DYNAMIC LIGHT AND SHADOW. Hanoi, 2016 by ERIC KIM

Composition Theory

Dynamic low angle composition. Tokyo, 2011 by ERIC KIM
Dynamic low angle composition. Tokyo, 2011 by ERIC KIM

Take your composition to the next level:


Street Photography Composition 101

DYNAMIC REFLECTIONS. Man and three reflections by ERIC KIM
DYNAMIC REFLECTIONS. Man and three reflections by ERIC KIM

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

Further articles to improve your compositions in photography:

Composition Theory

Chiaroscuro. DYNAMIC LIGHT AND SHADOW. Hanoi, 2016 by ERIC KIM
Woman and door. Chiaroscuro. DYNAMIC LIGHT AND SHADOW. Hanoi, 2016 by ERIC KIM

 

Learn compositional theory:


Compositional lessons from the masters of art


Composition lectures