How to Make Your Photographs Skip, Hop, and Dance

Image of blue waves showing regular rhythm composition by Eva Polak.

Regular Rhythm

Do you know whether your images samba, jive, strut, or stroll? Or perhaps they are doing a more sensual and subtle sway of a belly dance? Just like the music during your dance, your viewers can sense the rhythm in your images.

Human eyes are designed to move, and rhythm is a principle of visual design that invites the observer’s eye to move over an image. By adding rhythm to your compositions you can make the viewer’s eye flow through the photographs softly, or hop and skip, with visual excitement.

Rhythm can create a sense of movement in a composition by repeating or alternating elements. Variety is the key to keeping rhythm in your photographs and making them exciting and active. It avoids monotony and offers the occasional surprise. Like the other principles of design, this can be added to your set of compositional tools to help you tell visual stories and create mood in your images. Music doesn’t need words to be mesmerizing, moody, or upbeat. You sense its mood, and it impacts on your state of mind. In a similar way, the rhythm in your composition impacts on your viewers, too.

Close-up image of petals of a flower showing flowing rhythm composition by Eva Polak.

Flowing Rhythm

There are three main types of rhythm, each defined by their suggested meaning or the feeling they evoke.

1. Progressive rhythm shows a progression of lines or forms to create a sense of moving forward or up. The elements repeat over an interval, usually in progressive steps. A color gradient is an example of a progressive rhythm. Gradually decreasing the size of an element as it recedes into the background is another.

Blurred image of trunks of trees in green grass showing progressive rhythm composition by Eva Polak.

Progressive Rhythm

2. Flowing rhythm implies a more natural sense of movement in a composition through the use of wavy lines or fluid forms. Each element doesn’t have to be quite like the next, but seen together they create a rhythm of natural movement.

Image of S-curved water near ocean during an orange sunset showing flowing rhythm composition by Eva Polak.

Image of golden plants waving in the wind showing flowing rhythm composition by Eva Polak.

Flowing Rhythm

3. Regular rhythm is seen when the elements used are of the same or similar size, length and weight, and are positioned in a pattern. Regular rhythm repeats the elements in a predictable interval. Typically both interval and elements are consistent. The sameness of a regular rhythm creates a less interesting, though not necessarily a boring rhythm.

Image of blurred green and cold leaves showing regular rhythm by Eva Polak.

Regular Rhythm

You can also vary the characteristics of the element. You can keep size and shape constant while varying color or keep color and shape consistent while varying size. This variation adds some complexity, but also interest to the rhythm.

As you can see, visual rhythm can be easily created in a number of ways through repetition, alternation and progression.

Repetition is the simplest way to attain rhythm and can be achieved by repeating any of the elements of visual design (line, color, texture, and pattern).

Image of plant while snowing showing progressive rhythm composition by Eva Polak.

Progressive Rhythm

Sepia toned image of reflections ini windows of people walking showing regular rhythm composition by Eva Polak.

Regular Rhythm

Alternation is used to create rhythm by alternating two or more elements in a regular pattern.

Rhythm can also be achieved through progression. Examples are a gradation of color or a series of objects that start small and become large in a very regular manner.

As a general rule you can add interest to rhythmic patterns by adding emphasis or contrast that interrupt the pattern at times. This could be a contrasting shape or color, or a drastic change in the size of one element.

Blurred image of pilings and a person near water showing progressive rhythm composition by Eva Polak.

Progressive Rhythm

Next time you look at a photograph, pay attention to its visual rhythm. Where do the elements let you pose, and where do your eyes ebb and flow? After studying the rhythm in the work of your favorite photographers, go on to play with the rhythm in your own images. Experiment by varying patterns and textures. Try different viewpoints of your subject. Play with different visual elements. Have fun – have a little visual dance!

By Eva Polak
Article and photos: © 2016 Eva Polak. All rights reserved.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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