Composition doesn’t make a candid, but a good composition can enhance it. It can amplify what you feel about the subject matter or invoke a reaction all on its own. Today I’m going to share with you 5 tips on composition to enhance your candids.
#1. Use a Dutch Angle
The Dutch angle, also known as the Dutch tilt, canted angle, or oblique angle, is when the horizontal or vertical lines of an image are tilted. In cinema, it is often used to convey anxiety, tension, or things gone awry, but incorporating a Dutch angle into your candid photography you can give the viewer a sense that it was captured in the spur of the moment.
The Dutch angle is an effective tool for enhancing the candid feel of a moment but should be used sparingly. Especially in a collection of images in which its strength lies in it being an outlier, not a norm.
Fun fact: The Dutch angle coinage does not refer to Holland. It is fact a reference to early German, or rather “Deutch” expressionist filmmakers. I need to get clarity on how it was misattributed.
#2. Shoot Through things to Frame Your Subject
When it comes to photographic composition, framing is most often used to draw your eye in toward your subject. But when shooting through things it has the added effect of conveying a shot was made in the spur of the moment or that the photographer was somewhat removed from the moment like a fly on the wall.
Using a rule of thirds composition, an over the shoulder shot frames your subject by drawing your eye in but also adds context, informing the viewer that the candid moment they are observing is part of an interaction.
Sometimes shooting things are effective tools in enhancing a candid moment. They mustn’t always frame.
#3. Use a Tilt Shot to Shoot from Extreme High and Low Angles
Shooting from high or low angles not only offer varied perspectives but also convey different meaning.
Images made from below convey importance, prominence, power. Images made from above tend to evoke opposite feelings about the subject such as powerlessness, downtrodden, weakness.
Carefully consider how you use these angles. Yes, they can be used to just offer something different, but when used effectively they can amplify the feelings already conveyed in the subject matter.
Sometimes I’ll sit on my skateboard in busy places and go unnoticed. I especially enjoy making candids that look like they could have been posed.
#4. Don’t Be So Clinical with Your Composition
Rules of composition are excellent tools for creating visual interest and drawing viewers into your subject matter. But sometimes when several rules of composition are utilized at once, your compositions can feel a bit too on the nose. This feels clinical and has the potential to feel contrived or lifeless.
I recommend experimenting with shooting a bit looser. Try adhering to fewer rules, or make sure the rules you do follow are less obvious.
You can argue that well balanced visual elements underpin the foundation of a strong composition. For example, in a composition using the rule of thirds, the subject matter occupying one-third of the frame is balanced out by the two-thirds of less important real estate.
Balanced elements should not be confused with symmetry: if, for example, you have an object of a specific size on one side of the frame you mustn’t have one on the other. We are not looking for equally sized objects or like colors to achieve balance. Rather, we are looking at the overall visual weight of things. Certain colors and shades will draw your eye in different ways. Something small but of more importance such as a person can be balanced out by something much larger but less important.
#5. Be Unconventional. Break the Rules
There are traditional ways to frame formal portraits whether candid or not. These traditions are in part formed by adhering to specific rules of composition such as the rule of thirds. But beyond rules of composition, we are used to a visual language developed by over a century of image-making.
Experiment with breaking these norms. Try unusual cropping or usage of rules. Instead of having leading lines lead toward your subject, have them lead away. Subjects tend to look inward in a frame. Try having them look outside of the frame and see how it makes you feel.
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About the author: Mik Milman is an event photographer who specializes in documenting authentic moments and interactions. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Milman has been working in Los Angeles for over 10 years. You can find more of his work on his website, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.