Cinematography and Composition Lessons in ‘HUMBLE.’ by Kendrick Lamar

-blue-red-circle-humble kendrick lamar composition screenshot11metropolis movie copy

Super-inspired by Kendrick Lamar’s new music video for his new song: “HUMBLE”:

1. Diagonal light beam

Good composition: diagonal light beam– very minimalist:

With ‘Gaussian Blur’ applied in photoshop, you can see the composition more clearly:

gaussian-blur-humble kendrick lamar composition screenshot2metropolis movie

Strong diagonals:

The triangular figure of Kendrick Lamar in a Pope outfit:

The entire bright lines outlined:

The light beam as a solid color:

Now Kendrick as a triangle-shape:

Now super-minimalist:

2. Depth/layers

In the next scene, you see ‘King Kendrick’ with his legs crossed, finger on his forehead– with the light beam on him.

Between these two photos, you see how the camera pans out, which integrates more depth into the frame:

Note in the next shot, the two other ladies added (one on the far left, and one on the far right):

Outlined in red:

1 kendrick lamar depth31 kendrick lamar depth4

With Gaussian Blur applied, you can better see the composition:

1 kendrick lamar depth5.jpg

See all the circles:


Now see the in-between (hidden) circles:


The next scene, see the side-diagonal composition:

Diagonal lines in red:

humble kendrick lamar composition screenshot7metropolis movie-2.jpg

I also love the silhouette of this woman’s face:

humble kendrick lamar composition screenshot7metropolis movie-3.jpg

With Gaussian Blur applied in photoshop — you can better see the outline of her face:

humble kendrick lamar composition screenshot7metropolis movie-4.jpg

Outline of her silhouette in red:

humble kendrick lamar composition screenshot7metropolis movie-5.jpg

3. Head tilt

Note the tilt of Kendrick’s head, how his right eye is looking straight at you, and positioned higher than his left eye. This tilted head creates a dynamic look:

humble kendrick lamar composition screenshot7metropolis movie-6.jpg

Look at the position of his eyes in red:

humble kendrick lamar composition screenshot7metropolis movie-7.jpg

The entire music video has a religious, Renaissance-feel.

You can see the engaging elements of a head-tilt in these famous Renaissance paintings:

John the Baptist Tilt Head

Note the tilt of his head:

Madonna con Bambino by Carlo Crivelli


tilt eye- small - Carlo_Crivelli_-_Madonna_con_Bambino copy.jpg

The full composition of John the Baptist by Leonardo da Vinci.

Venus head tilt

venus - Sandro_Botticelli_-_La_nascita_di_Venere_-_Google_Art_Project_-_edited.jpg

In this famous painting of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, note how Venus’ head is tilted:

tilted head venus.jpg

Very good composition.

4. Spot the not

Another ‘spot the not’ composition:

In a sea of anonymous faces, you only see Kendrick’s face:

humble kendrick lamar composition screenshot10metropolis movie.jpg

Kendrick is the only real guy out there:


With heavy Gaussian Blur, you can see the outlines of all the heads– the brown heads against a black background. A good use of ‘figure to ground‘:


Some of their heads outlined in red:


Moral lesson: How do you stand out, when you’re forced to fit in? Or even though you’re like everyone else, how do you be unique, lift up your head, and say what is really on your mind?

5. Heads on fire

Visually, probably the coolest scene:

humble kendrick lamar composition screenshot11metropolis movie

Interesting, you see Kendrick’s shirt says ‘Dreamer.’

The interesting thing about the scene is many.

First of all, the guys behind kendrick (other black guys with black shirts on fire) — they have ropes tied around their face, anonymous. Perhaps a testament to lynching that happened to blacks in the past.

Think about this KKK Lynching scene from Joey Badass’ “Land of the Free” music video:


Anyways, you can see how Kendrick is the only one wearing a white sweater, while all the other guys are wearing black. This helps him ‘pop’ or stand out//or create ‘contrast’ or ‘figure to ground‘ against all the guys in the background:

eric kim composition kendrick lamar humble


As the camera pans out, you can see the depth in the photo: Kendrick and the guys with the ropes on their heads in the foreground, and the other guys on the stage in the background:

The guys in the background illustrated in blue; note the good spacing between them:

-blue-red-circle-humble kendrick lamar composition screenshot11metropolis movie copy

And when you pan out, you see all the guys hanging on top of the frame:

Their hands are also crossed, in their front, like they are ‘humble.’

See the guys in the foreground in red:

See the guys in the background in blue:


6. I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the photoshop

Side-by side commentary about reality vs false reality:

I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop
Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor
Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks – Kendrick Lamar

My favorite moment, when the woman crosses over from ‘false reality’ to ‘real reality’ — that split is genius:

kendrick lamar photoshop side by side


I’ve found a lot of inspiration for photography composition in music videos. A lot of the hip hop artists/rappers are doing pretty cool innovative stuff.

Some other personal favorites:

Kanye West: Black Skinhead

Note the triangle compositions, the black and white monochrome, and the use of three subjects in the frame:

Eminem: Rap God

References to the Matrix, and makes you just feel like a badass:

Joey Badass: Land of the Free

His KKK references to the dark side of America’s past, religious/racial commentary, and beautiful cinematography.

See all the screenshots for Joey Badass’ “Land of the Free” >

Learn more Composition >

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

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