Tension is a balance maintained in an artistic work between opposing forces or elements; a controlled dramatic or dynamic quality. It is a force created through stretching or pulling- a situation or condition of hostility, suspense, or uneasiness.
Dynamic tension is one of my favorite tools to use when photographing daylilies. This is one of the best articles on the topic. Or Google 'dynamic tension in photography' and you will find some wonderful examples and rabbit holes.
In a nutshell, dynamic tension in a photograph is using the energy and movement available in various features of the frame to draw the eye out of the picture, in contrasting directions.
When I shoot a photo, the viewer should feel the overwhelming need to go into the photo, or follow wherever the edges of the photo lead. It's movement and intention, not just proof of life.
Enjoy the example of H. 'Whale Tails' below. As you look at it, note how your eyes focus and dart and move around the photo, having a second or two of visual fun. You aren't just observing it, you're kinda experiencing it.
The photos that resonate most with me are those that have a starting point.
Where does my eye go first?
Is it pleasing? Is it lasting?
Does it "lead" somewhere else in the frame? (dynamic tension)
In my brain, these questions happen in a split second as I set up the frame and shoot the photo. The questions also really only started occurring to me after my eyes felt the difference between photo documentation and photo discovery.
In the two photos below, my eyes FEEL something when looking at the photo on the left. I feel motion flowing off the edges in two directions in that photo.
The photo on the right is the same bed just taken three steps closer. It is a fine photo documenting a mass planting, but it has no movement and is less pleasing to my eye when compared to a photo framed using the dynamic tension concept. Once you read that article, and interpret some of the examples below, you will start to see the dynamic tension everywhere - in buildings, in car design, in architecture, in the music that inspires you the most.
Maybe the concept of dynamic tension can be translated to evaluating for distinction in the seedling bed or on the show tables. The interplay of conflicting elements adding to its allure...hmmmm...
I find dynamic tension in this example of H. 'San Juan Nights'. The directional pull feels up and down in this photo- those lilting, heavy petals stretching themselves with gravity. I also see dark against light. One against many.
And in the below photo of a seedling seen at Floyd Cove last May that I cannot get off my mind - the dynamic tension is flying directly into my face - head on - right out of that photo. It's pushing against the background, leaving it in a blur.
(Karen Pierce, I wish I would have gotten a photo of this tag. This one was my ultimate favorite from my Mecca visit with you last year!)
If you takeaway just one thought, it should be that good photographs start at the moment you frame it - not at the moment you open your editing tools. Thoughtful framing generates thoughtful photos, and dynamic tension is just one element to consider and explore. And like the endless shrimp cocktail lures in Vegas, just because its there, doesn't mean you have to take it. Partake wisely and sparingly.
Have fun out there! Til next time-