I just watched Dr. Strange – and man, I was blown away. I was blown away with the morals of the movie (the idea of living for something greater than yourself), the visuals (surreal), and the cinematography was fantastic.
If you don’t always have the opportunity to go out to make photos, study film. I personally watch movies in VLC on the Mac, and take screenshots whenever I see a composition I like.
The hotkey is “Command+Option+S” to take a screenshot. Then use it to analyze your images, and figure out how you can apply this to your photography.
1. Low angle
I love this beginning scene, with the low angle. I like the little circles on the left of the frame, the depth (from the object in the far right). It gives you focus to Dr. Strange’s face, and I love all the circles in the image:
So composition lesson, for more drama: shoot from a low angle, looking up. Also see if you can get repeating patterns, like repeating circles.
2. White background
After Dr. Strange crashes his Lamborghini (moral of the story is to not text and drive), he wakes up in a dazed trance. Everything is white:
The whiteness is important. It is like seeing the light after you die, and you see God (or something like that).
Note the drama of seeing just one eye open.
3. Triangle composition
Dr. Strange (once a rich, snobby, and self-absorbed neurosurgeon) who made his living with his hands— wakes up, and his hands are pretty much fucked:
What I love is the focus on his face, and the triangle composition:
The next shot is good, note how you see the world from Dr. Strange’s perspective. By getting his POV (point of view), you feel his pain:
Lesson: If you’re shooting a film (or photo project), vary the perspective — between the viewer and from the subject.
The next shot, you see him looking at pain at his partner— note the small details which make the shot so good. I love the one eye of despair, closer to the subject, and the little two stitch marks:
Also note, all the diagonal lines in the photo, which make the face look more alive and engaged:
Composition lesson: Try to make photos or video with one eye open. And have the subject’s head tilt, to make the image more dynamic.
5. Thank God for Hands
When Dr. Strange figures out because he crashed his Lambo, his hands get broken against the dashboard:
In the next few scenes in the movie, you see Dr. Strange trying to retrain his hands, via physical therapy. To me, I appreciated my hands even more.
Trying to strengthen fingers — first shot, contracted fingers— trying to extend his fingers:
Re-learning how to write:
Note how poor his writing still is:
Moral of the story: don’t text while driving
Or else this will happen:
6. Life is more about materialistic stuff
Dr. Strange was the master of materialism. Fancy penthouse in NYC:
All fancy watches:
Through the film, he realizes that the physical (material) world is all a false reality. What is more important? The human soul.
7. Out-of-body experience
The best scene in the movie: you see him having a ‘out of body experience’:
He sees his body from a third person-perspective — and realizes that there is more to life than just his body, and sensory perceptions:
And then, he sees another dimension of reality when he is ‘enlightened’ by his master. Probably the closest thing you can get to having a trip on LSD:
To me, it is an absolutely beautiful scene— the bright colors, the fratal patterns (self-similarity in pattern shapes, just how nature grows). Even note this image of his hands turning into fingers, turning into other hands with fingers— just how trees grow their branches:
Practical lesson: best way to study the beauty of aesthetics: study nature, art. You can gain appreciation, without having to take LSD.
8. Which way is up?
In the movie, it is like an MC Escher drawing— where you don’t know which way is up:
What I love about this is that it shifts the concept of ‘right side up’ on our heads.
For example, if you saw the earth from space, everything would be ‘upside down’ (depending on the angle).
What if one day, we could create buildings that twist, and are more curved, and organic?
Also realize, how much of your personal limitations are just self-imposed by your mind. If you see the false reality of the fears of your life— you can break through your fears, into a new, more powerful dimension:
You just need faith in yourself.
Enter through the portal:
Also kind of unrelated, but see Stan Lee (creator of Marvel) in this scene on the bus, reading Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception”:
“The Doors of Perception” was a book written by Aldous Huxley (same guy who wrote ‘Brave New World’) talking about his epiphanies after taking a psychedelic substance called mescaline.
So we certainly know where the cinematography and concept of Dr. Strange comes from — the hippies-movement, LSD, drug experimental time in America (apparently the origin of this Dr. Strange character):
Lesson: look for these little ‘easter eggs’ in movies— they can often teach you or lead you to something deeper, more meaningful, and philosophical.
9. Serve the greater good
What I love about superhero movies is that it encourages you— the viewer— to also become a superhero.
Heroes serve the greater good. They sacrifice themselves for humanity.
When I watch movies on my laptop, I have a text editor open— and I type notes, quotes, and ideas that I have during the movie. Because I feel that the good movies (like Dr. Strange) aren’t just cheap action flicks. They are cheap entertainment movies on the superficial outside— but deep, philosophical, and simple meditations on life, death, and beyond.
For example, some quotes I like:
Always have hope
All I need is possible
Dr. Strange fucks up his hand, and is trying to retrain/fix it. Everyone says it is impossible. He still stays strong with hope.
Don’t be stuck in your beliefs
Forget everything you think you know
When you think you know something in life, it can cause you to become pigeon-holed. To gain true wisdom in life— seek to unlearn.
Open your eyes
Open your eyes
We are often blinded by the false smokescreens of reality. We get caught up in bullshit— wanting more money, wanting material stuff, wealth, power, social media followers, etc.
To see the truth, we just need to open our eyes.
To think deeper, consider the question:
What mysteries lay beyond your senses?
Live above your demons
We never lose our demons; we learn how to live above them.
We will always have inner-demons. The secret isn’t conquering or eliminating our inner-demons, but learning how to live ‘above’ them.
What is reality?
In the movie, we are skeptics. We are skeptical of ‘voodoo’ and this Eastern medicine/philosophy.
In the movie, the master tells Dr. Strange that these ‘spells’ are just ‘programs’ (imagining computer science). She tells him if the concepts ‘offend his modern sensibilities’ — he can use computer analogies.
For example, what is the ‘source code that shapes reality?’
To better understand reality— use terms that make sense to you. Oh yeah, and watch The Matrix.
Surrender to discover your inner-power
Surrender—silence your ego. Then your power will rise.
To gain true power is to silence your own ego. The more humble we become, the more inner-strength we will have.
10. You have the power to do GOOD
Dr. Strange is an asshole. Yet, his master says:
You always had a capacity for GOODNESS.
We all have a capacity for goodness, and doing good in the world— no matter who we are. No matter our past, present, or position in life.
Don’t let fear of failure prevent you from achieving personal greatness. Don’t let fear hold you back — let it drive you forward.
We have a choice— to serve something GREATER THAN OURSELVES.
Death is what gives our lives meaning. Knowing our days are numbered, and our life is short— we devote ourselves to something more meaningful in life.
We might suffer, in order for others to live.
Your power has a purpose— to serve others.
Be strong, and be a hero.
About the Author
Eric Kim is a street photographer and photography teacher currently based in Hanoi, Vietnam. His life’s mission is to produce as much “Open Source Photography” to make photography education accessible to all. You can see more of his work on his website, and find him on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. This article was also published here and shared with permission.