Tyler’s Tips Episode 10: Dynamic Energy


Welcome to Tyler’s tips. Today I’m going to be talking about dynamic energy. Okay, so what is dynamic energy and why does it matter? As I define it, dynamic energy is the characteristics of a photograph that keep your eye and your brain kind of moving around inside the composition, so following lines, completing geometric shapes, the interplay between different components that have visual mass. So in other words, what are we looking at and how is it keeping us engaged with the photo, and why does that matter?

Well, if we want the people who view our photos to engage with them and experience them powerfully, the more we can keep them, their brain moving around in the image and keep it dynamic, keep it, their experience of it changing as they’re looking at it, the more they’re going to experience it powerfully.

So it’s a technique to essentially make better photos, more effective photos. So digging into some examples, like what is dynamic energy? How do, well, I just told you what it is, but how do we do it? How do we create it specifically? So, diagonal lines in photos have that effect if you use them properly. It’s as simple as that. They’re a great tool for creating dynamic energy.

Geometric shapes can do it too. The human eye likes to follow shapes. It likes to, really likes circles. It likes squares and octagons and things like that, and that can be a big help to your photos but it can also cause trouble if it’s fighting your story. We’ve talked about that with visual mass as well. And there’s a lot of overlap with this and visual mass by the way.

Another dynamic energy example that I’m going to show later is the way that two components that have strong visual mass can sort of play off each other, and you can create dynamic energy in between two things even though there’s not necessarily a line or anything that’s connecting them, but our brains jump back-and-forth and that back-and-forthness, that lack of one place for the eye to just stop and completely settle creates images that are a little bit engaging and less static.

So, some examples. Here’s a photograph that shows dynamic energy using lines mostly. So I used the line of the strap, you know that belt that’s inside the motor and the edge of the engine compartment, those lines lead right to the hands. You can also see the arm of the mechanic kind of leads right to the hands, and of course the hands in this case are the subject of this photo. By bringing those powerful diagonal lines into the photo and dropping you right on the subject, it has an effect of keeping things moving.

Another element where getting two visual mass components to play off each other in this photo is that the big window that’s the light source. So I like to include something like that because it shows where the light is coming from, and it gives us a little bit of context in terms of the space in this photo.

The other thing that it does or the other thing that’s important from a visual point of view is that the brightest thing in the photo is always going to draw our eye to a certain degree. So in this case that window is the brightest thing in the photo, so we tend to look at it. But it’s not nearly as compelling psychologically for us as the hands are. So you wind up with this interplay where our eye wants to, we look at the window, we come back to the hands. We look at the window, we come back to the hands. Doesn’t have to happen a lot, but even if it just happens once, that’s dynamic energy. So the more things like that we put in a photo, the better.

So, here’s another example. This is architecture, so this is an commercial architectural interior, and you can see right away at this point, wow, diagonal lines everywhere which is great. I love those kinds of photos, and I feel like it’s super effective. In this case, there are also really contrasty, like on the floor there are those black tile lines that are black against white. We’ve got the lights under that little overhang in the dark part of the room that are super contrasty. White lines in a black context. And everything leads back to that piece of art, and in that art we’ve got some great visual mass so we have a circle, a bright white circle that’s awesome, that really draws the eye. We’ve also got the saturated colors and the red lines at the bottom, also great visual mass.

So another component where I love this photo for this dynamic energy is that all those lines take us in, but then we want to follow the lines back out, and on the floor we follow that dark line on the floor and then we experience, it loops us back around. So it doesn’t just stop there as a lot of architectural diagonal lines tend to. They lead you out of the frame. In this case, it leads you towards the edge and it loops you back in, and it creates a nice visual cycle.

So, I’m going to show you the last example where there aren’t really any diagonal lines, and it’s just an example where we can use visual mass components to really create that dynamic energy. So this is a photo that has two people in it. The huge visual mass particularly with the little girl’s pink dress. It’s this bright saturated pink against a dark black background, so that’s just Visual Mass 101. It also is a little girl, and children always have like an extra visual mass, like there’s something, maybe it’s just me. I have two little kids so I’m super attracted to images of little kids. I think they’re awesome.

But then we also have visual mass of the woman’s face. So the woman’s silhouette, it’s very bright behind her and her hair is dark, so it’s contrasty. It’s the visual mass of a human form which our brains love, but then inside that there’s also her profile which is very pale, very almost white, and it’s against her hair which is black. And so we’ve got this little human profile. It’s very small but it’s super contrasty and it has a lot of psychological mass because it is a human face.

So, between these two very potent psychological or visual mass elements in this photo, we get this back-and-forth. And then you add to that that the little girl is looking at the mom, and the mom is not looking at the little girl, so it creates another layer of story where there’s a little tension there.

So there you go. Ways to bring visual, or I’m sorry, ways to bring dynamic energy into your photos. So next time you’re out shooting and you’re telling your story with a still photograph, try to think about ways that you can bring dynamic energy into the composition because it’ll ultimately make the photo a little bit more compelling and a little bit more engaging for whoever’s looking at it.

So I hope you found this useful. As always, thank you for your time. If you have any ideas or questions that you’d like me to discuss in a Tyler’s Tips episode in the future, shoot me an email or put a comment below, and I’ll work it into an episode. Until next time.