We feature some of the brightest Instagram storytellers in the Passion Passport community through our Instagram Spotlight series. This week, Effie Teh (@effie_2512) talks about the composition tools that make her mind-bending images stand out.

Everyone sees the world differently, and for me, that’s the beauty of photography — sharing my own perspective. When I first started, I worked really hard to learn and abide by the “rules” of composition. However, once I had fully incorporated them, I started to develop my own style and look for fresh compositions to create more personalized images. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way.

FRAMES

Framing not only directs attention — it also gives a photo context, layers, and a sense of depth, intriguing the viewer and drawing their attention toward the main focal point. I especially love using textured framing elements, as they add even greater depth to photos. For me, there are infinite options for what I can use as frames to create impressive images, so finding frames while shooting is sort of like going on a creative treasure hunt.

I took these images in three different cities: Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and London. The 90-meter-long pedestrian tunnel in the third image, captured in London’s King’s Cross Station Tunnel, enchanted me with its gentle curves that featured an art wall made from LED lights. I used the entrance as the frame, and captured a passersby at the opposite end to show the depth of the tunnel — a similar technique as the one I used in the other two images.

SHAPES

Shapes are one of the fundamental visual elements of photography. Utilizing them effectively can convey emotions and meaning in compositions, so I always try to push my own boundaries and look for photo-enhancing forms. It’s sort of a “back to basics” mindset that can make images spark immediately. Shapes open up a whole new possibility in creating something new, and they also help you to see beyond what is apparent. When you include strong shapes in your photographs, it breaks up monotony and adds interest.

Hong Kong is an ever-changing city, as its old, traditional structures are continually demolished and replaced with new, modern ones. With that in mind, I wanted to take a break from the super-structures that I had always captured there and delve into the city’s more traditional side. I thought that the best way to do this would be to look at Hong Kong’s public housing estates. The Ping Shek Estate, shown in the second image, serves as a good example of this. Space is tremendously limited in Hong Kong, so expanding upwards is the only way. This estate consists of four color-coded but identical blocks. The distinguishing feature of the block is the internal courtyard at its center. Looking up, viewers will see spectacular geometric shapes.

The walkway bridge in the first image was taken in Shenzhen, China. The infinite arch shape creates movement, texture, and depth which emphasize areas of interest. The more you know about the shapes you are working with, the easier your image will be to compose.

The last image is one of an Instagram hotspot in Hong Kong. I have visited this place many times, as the first time is all about the novelty and just capturing the spot, whereas new ideas form on subsequent trips. There are many angles that a photographer could capture here, but this one is definitely my favorite. Always go beyond the obvious!

ABSTRACT DESIGNS

Capturing abstract designs is probably my favorite way of taking images, simply because it really lets my creative juices flow. I have the freedom to photograph anything that catches my attention and thus express my artistic nature. Composing abstract design stimulates creativity and reveals details that are normally overlooked.

What really drew me to these buildings was their fluidity. Macao’s Morpheus Hotel, which you can see in the third image, was designed by the late Dame Zaha Hadid. The curved, free-form exoskeleton structure caught my attention during my trip to Macau, a month before Christmas. It was still under construction then, and most of the building was covered with green netting, so the best angle available to me at the time was the hole in the middle of the building. A series of voids gives the hotel complexity and volume, and I was inspired to present it in a unconventional way, using its concept of mysterious abstract design.

COLORS

Color has emotional value, so when it’s used properly, it can be one of the most effective tools for conveying mood in an image. I have always used bold colors in my photographs because I believe they allow images to impact and speak to the viewer in ways other colors do not. When used correctly, color adds a dynamic element to an image, and it is the primary factor responsible for making a photo magical.

I took this first photograph in ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum in Aarhus, Denmark. The circular and colorful glass walkway was only completed a few years ago, but it’s one of my favorite architectural elements anywhere in the world — especially on a sunny day. The clear, blue sky in the background makes the walkway’s bright colors stand out, which also creates a sense of depth for the viewer.

PATTERNS

Patterns exist everywhere. In photography, they draw the eye and turn the simplest objects into artwork. Recognizing patterns can help you create “eye-catching” images and bring rhythm, harmony, and dimension to your work.

My advice? Never settle with one simple, eye-level pattern. Always change the angle of your shot to get different leading lines and perspectives. It will keep your viewers on their toes!

With these shots, I wanted to utilize these perspectives and patterns to create the illusion of infinite structures.

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Effie Teh
Effie Teh is a Malaysian photographer and avid traveler who can trace her love for architecture photography back to when she first discovered Instagram while living in London. In the future, she hopes to expand her art and venture into other fields of photography as well.