The Theory of Dynamic Composition

In daily life, we perceive speed in a very subjective way. As we drive through flat, featureless country, we feel that the car is travelling slower; driving along a tree-lined road on the contrary – we tend to overestimate speed.

Theory of Dynamic CompositionIt is the same when watching moving pictures. We cannot see speed and movement in the picture; we can only guess from the clues given in the scene.

Here are some typical ways in which we react to movement in an image:


Slower speeds suggests effort, or motion with difficulty, especially if accompanied by sounds similarly associated (low-pitched, forceful, percussive). The impression of effort can be increased by replaying a normal action in slow motion.

Relative speeds

We assess the speed at which someone is running toward us by the rate at which his or her image size grows.


Although gravity is irrelevant, we subconsciously associate movement and position within the frame with it. Moving from top to bottom appears to be moving downwards, sinking or collapsing. Moving from bottom to top of the shot looks like rising against gravity, floating, or climbing.

Fixation point

The visual impact of movement can depend on where we happen to fix our attention. Looking skywards, we see moving clouds and static buildings or static clouds and toppling buildings.


Something that is large in the frame and is moving toward the camera appears to grow stronger and more threatening. Seen from a side viewpoint, the same action (e.g.r a truck backing up) can seem quite normal.

Using Dynamic Composition

Dynamic composition is used by the media daily. Some widely accepted working principles have emerged:

Direction of movement

Direction of movement, like vertical lines, vertical movement is stronger than horizontal.

  • A left-to-right move is stronger than right-to-left.
  • A rising action is stronger than a downward one.
  • An upward move generally looks faster than a horizontal one.

Diagonal movement

Like diagonal lines, this is the most dynamic movement direction.

Movement toward the camera

All forward gestures or movements are stronger than action away from the camera: a look, a turned head, a pointing hand. Similarly, a shot moving toward a subject (dolly/zoom-in) arouses greater interest than one withdrawing from it (dolly back/ zoom-out).