What is it?
Dynamic tension is a way of using the energy and movement available in various features of the frame to draw the eye out of the picture in contrasting directions. We've already looked at a variety of different lines that you can use in a photo to make it more interesting, but dynamic tension takes these lines and adds varying degrees of contrast between them, making them much more interesting. The simplest and most obvious photo that I have that demonstrates dynamic tension is the one below – the lines move out from the center of the photo to edge of the photo.
Identifying Dynamic Tension
This is one of those things that once you've learnt about it, you can't stop seeing, so this can become quite easy. What you need to look out for is as follows:
- Multiple diagonal lines moving away from each other in different directions.
- Paths the move in opposing direction.
- Body language that contrasts between 2 or more subjects.
Below is a photo I took in Greece, where their cramped hillside housing forces multiple paths to converge, making it ideal for a scene of dynamic tension. You can probably identify a feeling of tension when viewing this photo, but it's sometimes hard to identify exactly why, which I demonstrate in the photo below, with the tension outlined by orange lines. The multiple contrasting directions make for a strong feeling of the photo pulling apart from itself, but this only really works as an example, adding dynamic tension doesn't instantly make it an interesting photo.
The strongest dynamic tension comes from the widest angles, and the widest angle that you can have between 2 diagonals that intersect is 90 degrees, so a great way to provide a photo with dynamic tension is to include paths that intersect at 90 degrees. This is a fairly obvious technique, so if you want to appear less obvious, add points on interests at the end of each of these paths which draw in the viewer in contrasting directions. For my photo below, I took it up a level, but including another diagonal in the form of some stairs, a curved frame from the mirror and myself as a subject, slightly off center.
Body language is one of my favourite things to capture and negative body language is a great natural source of dynamic tension. The idea is that people move away from things that they don't like, creating contrasting positioning and looks. In my photo below, the V-shape that forms between the subjects forces the eye off in different directions and curves out of the photo, while the eye line of the subject on the left brings you back to the subject on the right. The added shallow depth of field focused on the girl in the middle is another way emphasis a different point of interest. Total Six Pack Abs