7 Simple Photography Composition Tips

Apply these simple photography composition tips to your photography today:


NYC Dynamic Street Photography Composition Workshop 2018

Eric Kim photography Bauhaus Piet Mondrian

To take your composition to the next level, join my NYC Dynamic Street Photography Composition Workshop (Feb 24-25, 2018).


What is composition?

Golden rectangle.
Golden rectangle.

Composition: How you compose a frame, how you divide spaces, or mark spaces inside a frame.

Why is composition important?

Composition grid
Composition grid

Composition is important, because it helps lead the eyes of your viewer. Without composition, your viewer would be lost– they wouldn’t know what to look at.

Not only that, but aesthetically, composition is appealing. When we look at a well-proportioned composition, our eyes feel delight.


Some practical ideas:

1. Diagonal composition

Diagonal

In Greek, ‘dia’ means through, and ‘gone’ means angle, or corner.

Therefore, a diagonal connects the edges or corners of your frame.

To make better compositions, make your photos more dynamic, by adding in the diagonals.


Golden rectangle x Diagonals

See below me draw the ‘Golden rectangle’ composition, with the diagonals in red. The yellow circles are the ‘eye’— where your eyes are drawn to.



Cindy diagonal composition. Uji. 2017
Cindy diagonal composition. Uji. 2017
Cindy diagonal Dutch angle. Saigon, 2017
Cindy diagonal Dutch angle. Saigon, 2017
Abstract. Cindy diagonal Dutch angle. Saigon, 2017
Abstract. Cindy diagonal Dutch angle. Saigon, 2017
Cindy walking, with diagonal line composition. Kyoto, 2017
Cindy walking, with diagonal line composition. Kyoto, 2017
Abstract. Cindy walking, with diagonal line composition. Kyoto, 2017
Abstract. Cindy walking, with diagonal line composition. Kyoto, 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.
Man walking up stairs, and looking nack. Dynamic diagonal lines and composition. Tokyo, 2017
Tilted picture of man walking up stairs. Tokyo, 2017
diagonal-arm-eric-kim-composition-red
Diagonal composition with arm.
eric kim dark skies over tokyo street photography black and white monochrome
Silhouette of man against diagonal background. Tokyo, 2011 // ERIC KIM
Diagonal leaf, black and white. Hanoi, 2017.
Diagonal leaf, black and white. Hanoi, 2017.

2. Figure to ground

Figure to ground: separation between dark and light parts of your frame.

Why is figure to ground important? To create a clear separation between the objects and subjects of your frame, so your viewer doesn’t get confused what to look at.

Top: good separation. Bottom: bad separation.
Top: good separation. Bottom: bad separation.

Therefore, separate your subjects from the background with negative space in between the objects in your frame.

Top: good separation. Bottom: bad separation.
Top: good separation. Bottom: bad separation.
Figure to ground
Figure to ground: Black background
Figure to ground: White box creates a “strong” figure to ground against the black background.
Figure to ground: White box creates a “strong” figure to ground against the black background.
Figure to ground: White box creates a “strong” figure to ground against the black background.
Figure to ground: White box creates a “strong” figure to ground against the black background.
In figure to ground, your eyes always travel to the areas of the highest contrast, then to areas or shapes of less contrast. For example, your eye will first look at the white box (most contrast) then the grey box (less contrast)
In figure to ground, your eyes always travel to the areas of the highest contrast, then to areas or shapes of less contrast. For example, your eye will first look at the white box (most contrast) then the grey box (less contrast)
When we introduce a fourth shape (very dark grey lightning bolt in bottom right corner) we can barely see it — because very dark grey has “weak” figure to ground (contrast) against a black background.
When we introduce a fourth shape (very dark grey lightning bolt in bottom right corner) we can barely see it — because very dark grey has “weak” figure to ground (contrast) against a black background.
Inverse figure to ground: with a white background, your eyes are first drawn to the darkest colors and shapes.
Inverse figure to ground: with a white background, your eyes are first drawn to the darkest colors and shapes.
Figure to ground example: Silhouette of Cindy against backlight of stairwell. Hanoi, 2017
Figure to ground example: Silhouette of Cindy against backlight of stairwell. Hanoi, 2017

3. Low angle perspective composition

Crouch down low, and shoot looking up. This creates the ‘Superman effect’— your subject looks bigger than life.

Shot very close in macro mode on Ricoh GR. Allowed me to get more of her face in focus.
Shot very close in macro mode on Ricoh GR. Allowed me to get more of her face in focus.
AMERICA - ERIC KIM16 eric kim woman popsicle
Downtown LA, 2011. Shot from below the curb, looking up. Making her look more powerful. Shot with a Canon 5D and 24mm lens.
Super-low angle, because I can use the LCD screen on RICOH GR II
Super-low angle, because I can use the LCD screen on RICOH GR II
eric kim hollywood pink red bull
Hollywood, 2011. Canon 5D, flash, 24mm lens. Crouching down very low. Note the two Red Bull cans.

Downtown LA, 2011 by eric kim street photography
Downtown LA low rider, 2011

eric kim street photography nyc low angle composition

5 eric kim street photography - color - portrait-color-new orleans
Low-angle photo from RICOH GR II / LCD SCREEN

4. Curve composition

Curves are more dynamic, and add movement to your pictures.

Fibonacci spiral:


My leg. Saigon hotel, 2017
My curved leg. Saigon hotel, 2017

cindy project black and white

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.

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

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

As a figure to ground example, I drew a curved white object against a black background. This has “strong” figure-to-ground.
As a figure to ground example, I drew a curved white object against a black background. This has “strong” figure-to-ground.
Curve composition and Cindy hand. Saigon, 2017
Curve composition and Cindy hand. Saigon, 2017

5. Layers

Make photos with foreground, middle ground, and background.

Case study

Example, this picture with the woman on the far left is closest to us (red), then the woman on the right (yellow, a little further away), then the man in the background (blue).


eric kim photography cindy and mom korea seoul flash
Seoul, 2016. Flash with layers of Cindy and my mom.
Berkeley, 2015 #cindyproject
Downtown LA, 2016
Layers of people in elevator. Tokyo, 2017
Layers of people in elevator. Tokyo, 2017
Garden Grove, 2016
Prague, 2015
Downtown LA, 2015

6. Golden proportion composition

More examples of the Golden proportion:

Dynamic tension in Golden triangle: both sides trying to fight for dominance.
Dynamic tension in Golden rectangle: both sides trying to fight for dominance.
Golden triangle divided into 1, 2, 3, 4. Study this when at home.
Golden triangle divided into 1, 2, 3, 4. Study this when at home.

Golden triangle analysis for Downtown LA, side face tattoo.

Intersection of Golden Triangle in Red circle. KUROSAWA x KIM.
KUROSAWA x ERIC KIM / Boy in bed of flowers
Final image: KUROSAWA x ERIC KIM / Boy in bed of flowers. Diagonal composition , golden triangle.

7. Triangle composition

Create triangle compositions for more balance in the frame.

Kurosawa, Rashomon composition


Triangles: Hollywood, 2011

Figure 1: Note the triangle that his handlebars make in the frame.

Triangle compositions in red, blue, yellow. Henri Cartier Bresson, Spain
Kurosawa Rashomon triangle composition
Kurosawa Rashomon triangle composition
Abstracted. Kurosawa Rashomon triangle composition
Abstracted. Kurosawa Rashomon triangle composition

Conclusion

Growth of nautilus shell, like fibonacci spiral
Growth of nautilus shell, like fibonacci spiral

To study more great composition, study cinema, design, and find inspiration from everywhere in the world. Ultimately, all composition comes from nature.

ERIC


NYC Dynamic Street Photography Composition Workshop 2018

Eric Kim photography Bauhaus Piet Mondrian

To take your composition to the next level, join my NYC Dynamic Street Photography Composition Workshop (Feb 24-25, 2018).


Composition

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

Conquer your fears and meet new peers:

Regarding workshops please email my manager Neil at neilta@gmail.com


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