Woman with clear umbrella shot with flash. Tokyo, 2017

How to Make Dynamic Compositions

Woman with clear umbrella shot with flash. Tokyo, 2017
Woman with clear umbrella. Tokyo, 2017

DYNAMISM — an element we want to integrate into our photography.

What is ‘dynamic’?

Diagonals and selfie. Red. Tokyo, 2017
Diagonals and selfie. Red. Tokyo, 2017

Dynamic: opposite of static.

Dynamic: BOLD, energetic, lively, edgy.

Dynamic: images and pictures which interest us. Which increase our pulse. Which draw our attention.

I. Low angle, leading lines, and flash

Low angle shot of man with flip phone. Shot with flash. Tokyo, 2017
Low angle shot of man with flip phone. Shot with flash. Tokyo, 2017

Pro-tip: to create more dynamic, edgy, pictures–especially when in the streets, shoot from a low angle, integrate leading lines, and use a flash.

  1. Low angle: Crouch down very low. I use a 28mm lens (integrated on the RICOH GR II). I also use the flash in ‘P’ (program) mode — so I don’t need to think before shooting the picture.
  2. Leading lines: Shoot in an area which tall skyscrapers, where you see leading lines — pointing to your subject. When you’re shooting, make sure to get right in front of someone, and crouching low– to get the leading lines to point to your subject.
  3. Flash: The reason why you want to use a flash is to separate the subject from the background. I use a flash even during the day– to give my subject a ‘pop’ or (figure to ground) or contrast from the background. I just use the integrated pop-up flash in the RICOH GR II — for you, I recommend to use the integrated flash your camera has, or if it doesn’t have an integrated flash– just use the smallest flash possible.

II. Diagonals

My hand and umbrella, yellow lines, and white zebra crossing lines. Tokyo, 2017
My hand and umbrella, yellow lines, and white zebra crossing lines. Tokyo, 2017

When I’m shooting on the streets, I look for diagonal lines. I often practice my compositions with any visual elements I see– with my own hand, with lines on the streets, or even the hook of my umbrella.

Cindy and hand through criss-cross diamond-patterned, translucent glass window. Tokyo, 2017
Cindy and hand through criss-cross diamond-patterned, translucent glass window. Tokyo, 2017

The secret to realize is this: diagonals are everywhere– especially in modern man-made cities.

Red lights. Tokyo, 2017
Red lights. Tokyo, 2017

III. Hands

Man covering his face with his hand. Tokyo, 2017
Man covering his face with his hand. Tokyo, 2017

Hands are dynamic– because we communicate with our hands. Hands connect us.

Cindy and hand through criss-cross diamond-patterned, translucent glass window. Tokyo, 2017
Cindy and hand through criss-cross diamond-patterned, translucent glass window. Tokyo, 2017

Whenever I shoot, I try to look for or integrate hands or hand-gestures.

If you’re taking a picture of someone you know, ask them to put their hand against the glass window. Ask them to put their hand near their face. Ask them to scratch their head.

In the streets, interact with your subject, and ask them leading questions like: “Where did you buy your watch?” or “What is the story behind your necklace?” This is a good way to get natural hand-gestures.

Or– you can take pictures of people on the streets, and sometimes they will lift their hands to cover their face because they don’t want to be photographed. This can make interesting images — because it obscures their face, makes them more mysterious– and also shows that the photographer is more aggressive. Pictures of people covering their faces are more uncomfortable to look at– because some of us know the feeling of not wanting to be photographed.

IV. Curved composition with multiple-subjects

Silhouette of men in suits, lined up. Ueno, Tokyo 2017
Silhouette of men in suits, lined up. Ueno, Tokyo 2017

When you see group dynamics– shoot the shit out of it.

For example here in Tokyo, I saw all these man in a line, dancing. I laid on the ground, shooting with my camera touching the ground, looking up– with the low-angle perspective with the Ricoh GR II and 28mm lens. I shot around 100 pictures of the scene.

If you look at the contact sheet, you see how many pictures I shot. I shot a lot, because I wasn’t quite sure of how the timing, the framing, or whether the subjects would overlap or not. For multiple-subjects, I generally prefer NOT to over-lap my subjects.

Also, I tried to integrate a CURVED diagonal composition to the image.

Takeaway: Lie on your back more often, look for curves, and separate your subjects.

V. Off-center subject, with wide-angle lens

Elderly woman and phone. Tokyo, 2017
Elderly woman and phone. Tokyo, 2017

To make more dynamic compositions, don’t center your subject. Rather, use a wide-angle lens (28mm or 35mm) and shoot them off-center. Meaning– put the subject on the far left or the far right of the frame.

By putting them off-center, you make the image off-balance. Which is more dynamic, and interesting to look at.

VI. Head-on subject, shot with wide-angle lens

Head-on street photograph. Tokyo, 2017
Head-on street photograph. Tokyo, 2017

If you shoot wide-angle street pictures, shoot head-on, not from the side. Meaning– almost walk into people. Or, when walking on the streets, walk around people (like a semi-circle) and only shoot when you’re head on.

VII. Use a flash

Woman with umbrella. 28mm and flash. Tokyo, 2017
Woman with umbrella. 28mm and flash. Tokyo, 2017

Flash pictures are more dynamic, because your subjects pop from the background. Pictures with stronger contrast and ‘figure to ground’ (where the figure is clearly separated from the background) are more dynamic.

Also if you shoot aggressive street photography, often you will have your subjects make eye-contact with you. Which is dynamic, because eye-contact is uncomfortable and scary. Which will make your viewer feel more integrated into the picture– because it looks like the subject is looking at them (the viewer).

VIII. Leading diagonal lines, dutch-angle

Man looking back, walking up stairs. Tokyo, 2017
Man looking back, walking up stairs. Tokyo, 2017

Tilt your camera, integrate strong diagonals, and get the leading lines to lead to your subject.

The ‘dutch angle‘ technique adds more drama, off-balance, and dynamism to your images.


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