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Art Composition Principle:- Movement, and how to add actions to your photos & artworks

Time To Add Some Action To Our Pictures Using The Movement Composition Principal

In the previous post, we looked at principles of composition. While the post explained each concept in some details. It was hard to explain everything about each concept in one post. So I opted to have a dedicated post for some of the most important principles.

As the title implies, this post will focus on the movement principle. It’s an important principle, after all.

As a little reminder, this post is a part of a series about art composition, you can refer to the first post of the series here if you want to read the whole series.

Now, let’s get started~

What’s Movement Principle?

Unlike the other composition principles. The movement principle has 2 meanings, both are useful in composition. The first meaning is the movement of the subject in the photo or artwork. This movement can help with building its composition.

The second kind of movement is the movement of the viewer’s eye around the artwork. That could be achieved even if the subject is not moving at all. It’s often accompanied with some of the other composition principles.

For the sake of simplification, we will take a look at each of the two definitions one at a time.

Composition Using Subject Movements Around The Artwork

This is a very straightforward definition of movement. It’s where the subject of the picture, or part of it, was shot while in the state of moving.

This benefits the composition, as the eye could follow the subject’s movement. It also implies that something is happening in the picture, which may cause the viewer to think of that.

In this dog example, the dog is running toward the ball. Its movement will cause us to follow it toward the ball:-

The same dog is running below, but this time around. Following its movement doesn’t get us to know where it is heading. It could be running toward its owner or something, we don’t really know:-

When we discussed composition principles, we looked at the following dancer. He’s in mid-air, and that will cause us to think of what is going to happen after that. Like how he’s likely going to land and perform the next move of the dance:-

This fighting scene is full of action. It won’t be as interesting if the two fighters were standing on the ground, facing each others:-

While moving subjects is a simple concept. It’s worth applying to your composition. In case of photography, timing is a key, and taking some pictures a moment late can cause you to loss a great shot. In case of painting & artworks, you have all the time in the world, but you have to make sure the movements are realistic, which requires studying anatomy & proportions.

Eye Movement Around The Artwork

Guiding the viewer’s eye within the composition is the second meaning of movement. It’s one of the reasons we study composition in the first place, as it will help us tell a story with our pictures.

There are two kinds of eye movement:-

    • Static:- The composition causes the eye jumps from an element to another in the artwork. The eye could look at an object at the middle of the picture, then move to another one at the corner, and so on.
    • Dynamic:- The eye movement is guided by lines, change in light or even gradation. As it was following a path (following a road, or a row of objects). Such lines are called leading lines.

In any of these two kinds, the eye will follow a different order that’s different in each picture, rather than predctably look at the middle, or scan it from left-to-right.

The following row of houses creates a rhythm, causing the eye to move from one house to the other.

It’s worth noting that the row of cars in the picture create a similar rhythm

Receding lines of perspective can help guiding the eye toward something. We follow the rows of trees toward the end of the road (or the vanishing point). The rows of trees are also helping us with that:-

Speaking of roads, winding roads lines are followed as well:-

That picture has more movement lines than the winding road. The eye would also lay and follow the lines of roads and mountains:-

Contrast is one easy way to guide the eye toward a certain element. It’s easy for the eye to divert toward the shade of the guy, as it contrasts with the light through the picture:-

Guiding lines can lead the viewer outside the picture frame. If you’re to follow the lines of this road, you will end up outside the picture frame:-

If you’re to shoot a picture like this, you may want to reconsider having the road in the picture or not. While the guiding lines can lead us outside the picture, they can work to do quite the opposite. This is called frame-within-frame.

Keeping The Eye Inside The Picture Frame Using Frame-Within-Frame

One special kind of guiding lines is called “frame-within-frame”, where some of the guiding lines act like a frame. These frames can keep the viewer totally within the picture. The way we are looking toward the clearing in this picture clearly guides us toward it:-

A very common example of frame-within-frame is pictures of windows. Observing nature through the window below, and from inside what looks like an old house is a good example of that:-

Not only the window keeps us inside the picture frame, but it also makes us wonder what kind of environment we are looking from? Is it to show us the suffering life someone is living? Or is it an old house we tried to explore during a vacation? As you most likely noticed, the house worn out wall contrasts with the beautiful nature outside.

The Two Definitions Of Movement Can Work As One

The two movement definitions can work together in the same picture. The subject could be moving, causing the eye to follow its movement.

In the running scene below. There are all sorts of movement, from the two guys at the foreground, to the two riding bicycles. The eye will follow their movement toward the end of the road. The receding lines of the road also help along with that:-

The snake below is moving forward, and the snake’s curves serve as guiding lines that lead us toward that:-

How About Art Movements?

The term art movements refer to trends or styles many artists followed through history. It is totally unrelated to the movement principle of composition, or even to the composition of the pictures themselves, but it’s a term you will hear about in art discussions. While it totally has nothing to do with composition, it’s good to know a bit about. Feel free to skip to this part of you’re not interested in that.

Each art movement featured many characteristics, to the degree you could often know which art movement an artwork is adopting at a glance.

Here are some art movements I picked on my own:-

    • Impressionism:- An art style that features small & thin brush strokes, with emphasis on depicting light accurately.
    • Renaissance:- Produced during the 14th, 15th, and 16th century. It features many characteristics, like individualism (showing one person in the artwork), secularism, where they show less depictions of the church, and adopting classic Roman and Greek techniques (classicism). Leonardo da Vinci is one of the most known Renaissance artists (he was more than just an artist by the way).
    • Gothic Art:- Medieval art movement that originated in France. Gothic buildings were known to be high. Gothic art also came in painting & tainted glass.
    • Rococo:- A very ornamental art that often uses asymmetrical patterns. And often used white & pastel colors. Rococo is also known as Late Baroque.
    • Expressionism:- A modernist movement, appeared initially in poetry and painting. It originated in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas (Source:- Wikipedia).
    • Surrealism:- An art movement characterized by illogical & unrealistic scenes. A common use of surrealism is creating weird creatures from everyday items.
    • Bronze Age:- Starting in the years c.3000-1100 BCE, this art often characterized by the use of copper and bronze.

There are way more art movements than these. In fact, one could write a whole book just to talk about each of them, one by one.

Let’s take a look at some examples of art movements~

Examples Of Art Movements

This is an example of impressionism:-

And here’s Rococo, one of my favorite movements at the time of me writing this post, notice the colors used type of ornaments used in there:-

And this is an example of surrealism, featuring a mouse made of a clock & some other objects. Some other examples of surrealism can be quite bizarre, or even nauseating, to look it:-

This statuette of a woman is in early example of bronze age art, and is known as Stargazer:-

A Final Word On Movement

Movement, as in the movement of the subject in the picture, makes the viewer see that there’s something happening in the picture, which can be engaging. The second meaning of movement, the one concerned with the eyes movement around the picture, is so related to the other composition principles, to the degree it’s hard to have an artwork that features it without using any of the other composition principles. That makes it mandatory to understand more of the other principles.

I hope my post helped you know more about movement, and see you again in the next. Please subscribe to my mailing list with the form below for more updates & promotions~

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I am an anime artist, and huge fan of digital art. I love drawing with pencils too. But I rarely do that anymore nowadays. Since some aspects of digital art can be tricky, I try my best to explain the concepts as easily as possible.

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