Saturday, 7 September 2013

"The Calling of Saint Matthew", Contarelli Chapel, Chiesa Di San Luigi Dei Francesi, Rome

Photograph Copyright ©2012 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concepts: Chiaroscuro (Emphasising outline); Chiaroscuro (Secondary patterns); Exposure (High contrast)

Description: In "The Calling of Saint Matthew", Jesus (far right) calls upon Matthew, then Levi the tax collector (central figure behind the table), much to the surprise of the gathered.  This painting is a fabulous exemplar of Caravaggio's use of light.in defining and emphasising the use of outline. The high contrast is used compositionally in directing the viewer's gaze - a similar effect can be achieved with the control of exposure (also to high contrast) in photography. Notice also the shaft of actual light coming into the chapel from above; a secondary reinforcement to the primary shaft in the painting.

Title: --

Friday, 6 September 2013

04.01 Chiaroscuro

Chiaroscuro is an Italian expression which can be translated literally as "light-dark" and arose out of its use in painting - where subjects in dark scenes were dramatically illuminated using shafts of light. Chiaroscuro, as an approach, is an effective means of providing the contrast essential to good composition where it:
  1. establishes tonal relationships;
  2. conveys dimensionality;
  3. determines compositional structure; and
  4. highlights areas of visual importance
Johannes Itten described chiaroscuro as "one of the most expressive and important means of composition" [in "The Photographer's Eye" by Michael Freeman (2007), page 110]. Compositional devices involving the application of chiaroscuro include:
  • crating ambiguity
  • emphasising outline
  • formation of primary patterns through caustics (i.e. reflected or refracted patterns of light)
  • reinforcement of secondary patterns e.g. sunlight dappling an already-dappled forest floor

Sunday, 1 September 2013

03.16 Exposure

Exposure, the amount of light allowed to impact photosensitive material for photographic reproduction, is often perceived to have a 'correct' role. There is an element of truth in this perception because of the technical limits set by:
  1. what is visible;
  2. the range of sensitivity of the photo-receptive medium (film or photo-sensor); and
  3. the expected appearance of the subject.
However, 'correctness' is modulated by the aesthetic considerations which do impact on how the technical boundaries are interpreted, for example: an over-exposed bleached look, or an under-exposed saturated image. The artistic interpretation of light is fundamental to the visual arts, and a solid understanding of the properties of light interpretation is core to the artist.

Exposure can concentrate or diffuse attention
The viewer's eye gravitates towards areas of perceptually 'normal' exposure from regions of underexposed dark and overexposed bright. Therefore:
  • higher contrast directs the eye; whereas
  • lower contrast lends the eye greater freedom to roam over the entire surface.
A photographic phenomenon which directs the eye is vignetting - wide-angle lenses can concentrate more light in the centre of the image field than the periphery i.e. exposure increases radially inward. Thus a vignette draws attention towards the centre of the frame.

Exposure affects the perception of form
High contrast conditions break up the visual continuity of form, whereas low contrast conditions preserve it. Take, for example, two horizontal elements: one above and at an angle to the other, illuminated from above. High contrast will mean that the continuous form of the lower element will be visually broken by dark shadow cast by the upper element. Low contrast would allow the lower element still to be seen as intact with the casting of a lighter shadow.

Exposure affects colour saturation
Over-exposure leads to desaturated (muted, bleached, washed-out) colours. The practice of exposing to keep the highlights within the range of the film - the dominant procedure still today - came about with the introduction of Kodak's Kodachrome film in 1935. Kodachrome was intolerant of overexposure, but rewarded underexposure with rich saturated colours. 'Exposing for the highlights' is still relevant in the world of digital photography because overexposure results in unattractive digital clipping. In this respect, digital sensors share similar limitations to Kodachrome (discontinued in 2009).

Graphical features of exposure
  • Silhouettes are the result from complete underexposure of the foreground, denying any foreground detail so that the outline of the dark shape tells the story.
  • Flares also deny detail, but are achieved through overexposure, and are commonly used to unify or increase the activity of a composition.

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Rape of Polyxena, Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Dynamic tension (single object); Content (weak)

Description: 'The Rape of Polyxena' (1865) by Pio Fedi is a stunning sculptural group with a dynamic diagonal arrangement. It does not privilege a specific viewpoint. The sculpture alone is a masterpiece of dynamic tension, and it would have conveyed this on its own against a plain dark background.

So the philosophical question is, "is the image itself an example of dynamic tension, or is it simply a straight-ahead image of a subject possessing dynamic tension?" After all, if we imagine 'The Rape of Polyxena' on its own, we can see a complex of actual (body-line) and implied (eyeline) diagonals, and a single continuous spiral comprised of the two struggling female bodies - Queen Hecuba (below) and her daughter Polyxena of Troy - wrapped around the core of Neoptolomos, son of Achilles, standing over the slain prince Polites.

To answer that we'd have to look at the relationship of the subject with its environment. The regular pattern of the Uffizi's façade, positioned behind the sculpture on the right, provides a frame for Polyxena's outline to pull against. The brightly-illuminated arch over Via della Ninna on the left emphasises the desperate curve of Hecuba. From this angle, the strong directional chiaroscuro lighting emphasises the diagonals of form; and the intersection of the bottom frame with Polites' torso implies a continuation of that diagonal to infinity.

Title: Polyxena mine

Sunday, 25 August 2013

02.04 Dynamic tension

Rather than thinking of images in terms of static balance, dynamic balance or imbalance, a different conceptual approach can be used to arrange elements in a way which energises the eye and leads it from the centre of the frame outwards.

Dynamic tension makes use of the energy inherent in structures; and compositionally locates them in positions where their energies pull or vector away from each other, most potently in highly contrasting directions. The achievement of dynamic tension is straightforward - the challenge, however, is to use it in a manner which does comes across as natural and with enduring appeal.

Images based on dynamic tension commonly incorporate a variety of contrasting diagonals; counter-lines, curving or straight; and vectors, real or implied. Overarching self-stabilising or enclosing structures, such as ellipses, are generally avoided as they resolve tension within the image.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Apse of Chiesa di Ognissanti, Florence, Italy

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Vectors (diagonals)

Description: A simple example of a diagonal vector used to balance an image. Taken with a wide-angle lens, the three gold-red-gold lines of the carpet emerge from the bottom-right corner of the frame to converge at the chancel, drawing attention to the steps and lower front of the altar. The positional vector of the carpet serves to counterweight the lectern in the lower-left corner, without which the image would be unbalanced.

Title: Optical Trinity

Thursday, 22 August 2013

03.11 Vectors

The eye likes to follow a line, or even the hint of one.

Visual composition makes use of this by directing the viewer's gaze from an obvious point of interest to a less obvious one, through the use of a joining line (or lines) possessed of movement and momentum. These connecting linear graphical elements - they must have a strong sense of direction and movement - are called vectors.

Vectoring is achieved compositionally through:

  • Diagonals
    These are the most energetic of straight lines. It there are many of them, and if they converge, then the vector is stronger.
  • Curves
    These lines have flow, pace, and even acceleration if they have a decreasing radius.
  • Implied lines
    As created by the Gestalt joining of dots, edges of forms or shadows. These vectors are weaker, but may be the only possible alternative when real lines are unavailable.
  • Representations of movement
    A viewer's eye 'reads ahead' of an object in motion. Hence an image of: a person walking, a swooping falcon, a speeding car, or a falling apple, drives the gaze along the same direction.
  • Orientation
    Objects recognisably associated with movement: trains, cars, horses, and arrows can vector just by the direction they face.
     
(note: visual vectors, in this case, differ from the strict definition of vectors in physics which must have both magnitude and direction - curves are not vectors because of changing direction.)

Sunday, 18 August 2013

The Chancel Windows, Cappella Tornabuoni, Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Gestalt perception (area/segregation/symmetry); Figure and ground (increasing interest)

Description: An exposure set to display the detail of Ghirlandaio's stunning stained glass window design puts everything else into shade. The windows, recessed into the back wall of the basilica, are advanced to the foreground; while the surrounding wall, the side of the main altar (very close to us on the immediate right) and my fellow admirers are optically receded into a background.

The phenomena at work are: tonal perspective (relative brightness); colour perspective; and the Gestalt principles of area, symmetry and segregation.

Title: Windows of the Tornabuoni

Saturday, 17 August 2013

02.05 Figure and ground

The term 'figure and ground' simply refers to:
  1. The figure - the subject of interest, usually in the foreground
  2. The ground - the context in which the subject is located, usually the background.
We understand naturally that objects have their settings, and are able to distinguish foreground objects from background objects. Perceptual mechanisms for distinguishing which items are advancing and which others are receding include:
  • Gestalt perception's 'Principle of Area'
  • Gestalt perception's 'Principle of Symmetry'
  • Gestalt perception's 'Principle of Segregation'
  • Colour perspective
  • Tonal perspective
  • Perspectival sharpness
Understanding how these perceptual mechanisms work allows a compositor to play with the viewer's sense of depth, creating ambiguity through figure-ground inversions. This involves minimising the levels of realistic detail in the foreground, and increasing the activity of negative space. In practice,
  1. the image should be just bi-tonal - commonly, one is the black of deep shadow;
  2. the areas of the two tones should be as equal as possible (negating the 'Principle of Area');
  3. reducing foreground/background cues such as comparative brightness (tonal perspective);
  4. emphasising regular silhouettes towards the background / de-emphasising regular silhouettes of the foreground.
Figure-ground ambiguity is an approach to creating optical tension, increasing interest, and, to a lesser extent, delay through a degree of abstraction.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The Young Man of Tachileik

Photograph Copyright ©2009 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Visual weight (face/emotional); Reactive (reactive shooting); Balance (dynamic equilibrium)

Description: In Northern Thailand on an agricultural fact-finding mission, we took some time out to cross over into the border town of Tachileik in the Shan state of Eastern Myanmar. While touring a village neighbourhood, I sensed the young man's curiosity and quickly pulled out my camera, turned to my left and took the moment before he hid his face.

The strong visual weight of his face and expression is augmented by the print and colour of his tunic. The framing is an example of visual weight balanced dynamically with energetic diagonals and negative space.

Title: The Young Master

Saturday, 10 August 2013

02.13 Looking and the effect of interest

The small area of optical acuity (3% of the central field) of the human eye means that our eyes need to flick from place to place, taking in visual snap-shots (saccades) which our brain composites into its interpretation of the whole. The process of looking - the pathway traced, and the duration of each saccade - comes in two tasty flavours: spontaneous and questing.

Spontaneous (i.e. when we're just taking it all in)
In this mode our scan-pattern is light and 'flaky' - flitting to points of novelty, sophistication and congruity. Visual weight is an important determinant, where the heaviness of attractants is modulated by factors such as the instinctual e.g. eyes and lips; and cultural e.g. colour, geometry and symbols.

Questing ( i.e. when we're actively looking for a piece of information)
When we are looking for one or more particular pieces of information, the way we look changes. Hence our state of mind, in this case the expectation of finding something, influences the way we look even before we begin the process. We weight visual elements informationally, according to how important we think they are as clues to what we expect to find, consciously overriding visual weight.

Creators in the visual arts believe they can direct the viewer's eye; 'Intended Order' is a founding premise in visual composition. However although there is broad agreement amongst viewers as to which parts of a composition carry information, the interpretation and weighting of that information is modulated by each viewer's life experiences.

And for compositors, Michael Freemen makes an interesting comment that "most people decide quite quickly what they think is important and/or interesting in an image, and go on looking at those parts" (in 'The Photographer's Eye' page 60). In other words, viewers re-scan the same informational points instead of looking at new parts.

Friday, 9 August 2013

March of the Sunflowers, Classe, Emilia Romagna

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Many (implying endless); Cartesian lines (horizontal); Lines (implication); Gestalt (continuity)

Description: It was a balmy summer evening, walking back to Ravenna from the Basilica of Saint Apollinaris in Classe, when I found the road lined with sunflowers. The clear green furrow in a vista of bright yellow petals with the flowers facing the houses in the distance, reminded me of a parade field of troops lined up for inspection.

From a low angle of perspective, chaotic groupings of many things are resolved by the eye into horizontal lines, the groups being joined together by the Gestalt Principle of Continuation. Framing the shot within the field's boundaries makes the flowers seem to extend sideways forever.

Title: March of the Sunflowers

Sunday, 4 August 2013

02.09 Many

Between the single unit and inseparable mass of texture lies 'many'. Many occurs at a largest scale where the form of individual components are still discernable. Thus content plays a stronger role in many than in pattern or texture.

An characteristic of 'many' to varying degrees is the element of surprise; of seeing so many things in one place, such as the flocking of flamingos in crater lakes; the clustering of monarch butterflies on oyamel trees in Mexico; or the human pilgrimage of Kumbh Mela. Large numbers imply a great occasion or event.

The conventional approach to composing with 'many' is to frame within the boundaries of the aggregation to imply that there is no limit to its extent.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, Ravenna

Photograph Copyright ©2012 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Texture (kinesthetic)

Description: The vault of the southern transept of Mausoleo di Galla Placidia. The only doorway is on the south wall, and strong directional afternoon sunlight brightly illuminates the ceiling mosaics with hard incident light. This picks out the textural qualities of the fine tiles by relief, especially in the upper-half of the image.

Title: Golden sunlight

Photograph Copyright ©2012 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Pattern (regular)

Description: In the north transept, the lesser amounts of incident light (particularly in the image centre) present a flatter image, emphasising the pattern of the mosaic over its texture.

Friday, 2 August 2013

02.08 Texture

"The structure of an object is its form...
 the structure of the material from which it is made is its texture" 
     - Michael Freeman  in 'The Photographer's Eye'
Texture arises from the representation of similar elements countless in number, at a minute size relative to the overall size of the image. Texture is thus a function of scale: think of the ears of wheat in an image of an extensive wheat field. A defining characteristic of texture is that should appeal most to our kinesthesia - our sense of touch - despite being observed via our visual sense,

Surface texture is observed clearest when illuminated by directional lighting at an acute angle: the smoother or finer the texture (i.e. the larger the scale), the more acute the incident light required to emphasise the relief*. The limit of this approach is reached when the surface is so smooth as to be reflective, in which case no angle of incidence and produce shadow contrast.

*Relief is a sculptural technique where a raised 'figure' is created by carving away the 'ground' or background. The clarity of the figure relies on the creation of shadow contrast, created by incident light, to give it definition (see Relief).

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Central Nave of Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Perspective (diminishing)

Description: The Dominican friars Fra Sisto Fiorentino and Fra Ristoro da Campi designed the central nave with a trompe-l'œil effect, seen upon stepping through the central portal of the main façade - the piers between the nave and the aisles get closer to each other towards the apse. This trick of diminishing perspective makes the nave look longer than it actually is.

The above photograph was taken with my back right up against the main portal doors. The below photograph was taken from the dais just slightly in front and to the right of the main altar. Compare the sense of distance and space, particularly between the counter-façade and the fabric screening at the other end of the nave closest to it. The optical properties of diminishing perspective and knowledge of how to manipulate it was known to Renaissance designers.

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, 29 July 2013

The Apennines of Italy, Republic of San Marino

Photograph Copyright ©2012 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Clear (plain)

Description: This picture communicates the majesty of summertime in the mountains of central Italy. The treatment is very straight-ahead - what I considered most appropriate in showing this as an enviable everyday occurrence.

Is it compelling or plain? Compare it to the others and make up your own mind.

Title: --

Sunday, 28 July 2013

05.09 Clear

The single image which says it all - the holy grail of photojournalism - is the epitome of clarity. With nothing left to say, the image is "complete" (Roland Barthes) and the viewer plays no role in the interpretation. Thematically clear images run the danger of being passed over quickly precisely because of their communicative efficiency due to a lack of involvement; of the lack of a need on the viewer's part, to invest in its understanding (the converse of ambiguous images).

This makes it all the more important for the clear image to be compelling. If the image is captivating and powerful to the creator, it will be so to the viewer as well.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

The Crucifix of Badia Fiorentina, Florence

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Balance (dynamic equilibrium); Single point (extreme periphery); Triangles (downward-pointing)

Description: The eye is naturally drawn to bright points of light, in this case the window in the apse of the Florentine Abbey, a site famous for manuscript copying and illumination. The framing of the window at the periphery is to accommodate the size and position of the crucifix - its visual counterweight. There are two main triangles: a literal downward-pointing triangle, whose two sides are formed by the crucifix's suspending filaments; a horizontal triangle implied by the apse window and the cross.

Title: 'Assumption of the Virgin'

Friday, 26 July 2013

05.10 Ambiguous

Ambiguity - when the theme or subject of an image is not immediately obvious - is a mechanism by which the viewer is drawn in and made to interact with the image in the process of trying to work out its meaning. An ambiguous image takes longer to read and understand thus prolonging the viewer's involvement with it.

Ambiguous images may have an enduring appeal because of this, articulated as "The Beholder's Share" by the art historian Ernst Gombrich where the viewer participates in the conceptual completion of the work of art by drawing upon personal experience and expectations, and derives enjoyment from it. (There's a smattering of flattery involved too.)

It's not only what is said, but how it's said. And in Ambiguity's case, what's said is said obliquely. Ambiguous images walk the tightrope between being not quite clever enough, and so obscure that no-one gets it.

Ambiguous images fall broadly into three categories:
  1. soluble - the key to resolution of the image is embedded in the image, no external reference is necessary (but a prompt to keep on looking for the unlocking key may be provided, for example, in the image title). This is common in delay.
  2. assisted - ultimate understanding of the image requires information outside the frame perhaps via an explanation of the image's context in a description provided.
  3. unresolved - deliberately devoid of key or explanation to leave the viewer in suspense.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Bachata in London, The Coronet Theatre, Elephant and Castle, London

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Pattern (irregular); Pattern (breaking the pattern); Ambiguous (assisted)

Description: An illustrative example of the power of lighting. The play of light and shadow gives rise to an irregular pattern made stimulating through extremes in contrast - of sharpness, brightness, tonality, movement and hue. In general, the eye is allowed to wander freely over most of the image - a key property of patterns.

There is however one focal point which breaks the pattern: stage-lighting reflecting off the male spectator's arm creates a short blue-white arc whose focal point is the sharply outlined shadow of the young girl against the wall.

Although the subject - that this is the audience at an musical event - is obvious, it is not clear what the object of attention is. In this case, it's the first ever live performance of bachata (a Dominican music and dance genre) in London's migrant Latin American heartland.

Title: 1-2-3 Royce!

Friday, 19 July 2013

02.07 Pattern

A pattern is, like rhythm, constituted of similar elements. However, unlike in rhythm, the eye is allowed to roam freely over the whole surface of a pattern. It is this lack of a strong direction which lends the pattern its distinguishing trademark: of having a static feel.

Pattern is about area, where rhythm is about direction.

Pattern is most effective when it fills the frame, because when bounds to repeated elements are absent, the viewer's mind will assume that the pattern is continuous beyond the image frame. But the caveat to this is scale i.e. the ratio of the individual element's area to the image area; and number number of elements.

Take for example, grains of rice. Filling the frame with a close-up of three grains of rice does not create a pattern. Conversely, an image of a surface covered by ten thousand grains - where each grain is perceptually indistinguishable - creates a texture instead. Thus scale is the main differentiator between pattern and texture.

To achieve a pattern, take an image of a group of similar elements such that the whole group just fills the frame, and then take images at successive increments closing in until just a few elements occupy the frame. The feel of the pattern will be felt strongest somewhere in that sequence.

Regular patterns comprise geometrically regular layouts. Visual interest is highly dependent upon the nature of the objects: a grid of oval cameos or coloured glass marbles with inclusions would yield and internally dynamic pattern than one of black rubber washers.

Irregular patterns arise out of unordered layouts. The closer the elements are grouped together, the less the obvious the irregularity (consider the grains of rice example above). Close groupings use the Gestalt Principle of Proximity, where items close together are perceived as belonging together.

Breaking the pattern plays on the directionless, meandering nature of patterns which makes them well suited as backgrounds. A contrasting element placed on/in the pattern is an immediate attention-grabber. Think of a still-husked grain rice, on a pattern of unhusked grains.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Chiostro degli Aranci, Badia Fiorentina, Florence

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Rhythm (continuing); Dividing the frame (golden section)

Description: The compressed steep diagonal of the Cloister the Orange Trees' left side sharply directs the eye to the contrasting wooden doors framed in the upper central arch of the opposite side. From there the eye moves to the orange tree and moss-covered entabulature over the cloister's well, before being drawn to the left side once again establishing a subtle continuous path. The presence of the wide archways along the direction of eye movement creates a sedate contemplative rhythm entirely in keeping with the visual feel of the abbey's cloister.

Title: Quiet Contemplation

Monday, 15 July 2013

02.06 Rhythm

When an image gives the viewer a persistent, enduring sense of recurrence, it is said to be possessed of rhythm. Rhythm has direction; the eye is led along a particular course and is therefore, by definition, dynamic.

Rhythm is achieved compositionally,
  • through an ordered spatial arrangement of a sequence of visually similar elements;
  • in a manner which compels continuous eye flow, through the use of dynamic lines like diagonals and the periodicity of elements synchronised to eye saccades;
  • at a scale which allows time for visual momentum to be established and continue beyond the image frame by the Gestalt Principle of Continuity.
     
The last criterion usually necessitates the framing of the image in landscape orientation, based on the eye's preference for horizontal movement.

Rhythm has momentum. A further compositional decision to be made is whether it should be allowed to:
  1. continue - giving the image a sense of suspension; or
  2. stop (through the placement of a dissimilar element the end of the sequence) - giving the image dynamic contrast.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Brunelleschi's Dome, Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concepts: Triangles (horizontal convergence); Rhythm; Itten's contrasts (regular/irregular); Horizon (similar proportions);

Description: The edges of Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore's nave create a horizontally converging triangle by the Gestalt Principle of Continuity, propelling the eye to the dynamic outline of the cupola; and then to the irregular horizon beyond, whose outline is accentuated by the pinkish back-light.

The movement of the eye over the façade's motifs create a sense of rhythm which changes pace when the façade angle alters at the dome's drum, stopping at the vertical edge. However the rhythm's visual momentum causes the eye to flow onto the irregular horizon line of Santa Croce district and the ancient Etruscan hills beyond.

Title: Convergence

Saturday, 13 July 2013

03.14 Moment (Henri Cartier-Bresson's "Decisive Moment")

Timing is central to composition in all instances where the subjects or their environments are temporally dynamic. Time might be measured in milliseconds, like the flow of drops of water that make up a stream; in hours, such as the migration of stars across the night's sky; or in an unguarded instant of feeling.

Henri Cartier-Bresson distilled this into the idea of "the decisive moment", articulating it as:
"Inside movement there is one moment at which the elements in motion are in balance. Photography must seize upon this moment and hold immobile the equilibrium of it." (from "The Photographer's Eye" by Michael Freeman)
So clearly was this expressed that "the decisive moment" can be found at centre of photography. (In some circles it has assumed the stature of dogma, stimulating a backlash of argument by post-modernists.)

Cartier-Bresson's idea of moment should best be taken at its simplest - that any activity of a subject within the image frame affects the quality of communication from moment to moment. The "decisive moment" might thus be found in:
  • composition - balance, imbalance
  • emotion - unguarded, affected
  • anticipation - framing, dynamic tension
  • repetition - movement, flow

Friday, 12 July 2013

05.03 Reactive

Reactive shooting relies on the photographer's ability to recognise an unfolding opportunity (observation) and to take advantage of that opportunity before the moment has passed (reaction). These are the hallmarks of street photography, because that's what's necessary in order to capture its images.

Successful outcomes of reactive photography are highly prized; and their virtuoso exponents, of whom Henri Cartier-Bresson is regarded as one of the foremost, are highly respected due, in no small part, to the recognition of how little control the artists have over their shooting environments.

This does not make reactive photography any more legitimate than its opposing counterpart, planned shooting. More realistically, reactive photography occupies one end of the shooting spectrum with planned photography at the other extreme. Between these is the 'half-planned' shoot, where favourable conditions are established, and then reactive shooting is allowed to take its course.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Laura and Andrea, "Rome Calling" in Discoteca di Stato, Rome

Photograph Copyright ©2011 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Eye-lines (direct eye contact); Content (strong); Reactive (half-planned); Moment (emotion);

Description: At the end of "Rome Calling", TC Electronic's inaugural seminar series on Audio Mastering, Andrea (right) called me over to pick up my credential. "Surely you can put more into the presentation of my hard-won cert?" I cajoled mischievously. Laura and Andrea held up the frame between them, the smiles from my playful teasing still on their lips.

I only had one shot at capturing their loveliness in an unguarded moment. This photo was the result.

Title: Loo's Certified

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

02.14 Content

The content of an image should not be confused with the subject.

Content is the result of the approach a photographer takes in resolving the subject into an image. The directness of the approach is what determines whether the content is considered strong or weak.

Strong content
The fact of the event is paramount, and the manner of its capture is to document this fact as clearly as possible. Image composition is of a practical bent. News photography, or reportage, is the best example.

Weak content
The treatment of the subject - abstractive, generic and symbolic - is paramount, not the fact of it. A subject is imaged for "what else it is" (Bruce Barnbaum in "The Art of Photography"). Image composition is of an unusual bent. Expressive and abstractive art photography are good examples.

A strong cautionary tale about the seductive tensions between strong and weak content can be in Michael Freeman's "The Photographer's Eye". George Rodger was a photographer who entered Belsen concentration camp alongside Allied troops towards the end of the Second World War. In a later interview, he said:

"When I discovered that I could look at the horror of Belsen - 4,000 dead and starving lying around - and think only of a nice photographic composition, I knew something had happened to me and it had to stop."

Monday, 8 July 2013

Trevi Fountain, Piazza di Trevi, Rome

Photograph Copyright ©2011 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Eye-lines (looking at another object); Diagonal lines (ordering); Cartesian lines (vertical);

Description: In Nicola Salvi's sumptuous baroque creation, the central figure of Oceanus stands in an alcove on a shell reminiscent of Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus', his eye-line directing ours to the rearing mount of a triton in front of him. Eye-lines from the allegories of Abundance (left) and Salubrity (right) reinforce the vector.

Salvi's design utilises a framework of vertical elements: Corinthian columns varying in scale to create a bulge in the middle of the façade with a semi-domed recess; from which spill irregular shapes of statuary, lent dynamism by the also-issuing water.

This image was cropped to emphasise the diagonal of morning light from top-right to bottom left; a line which imposes order on the composition: from the Corinthian capital of the right-most column, to the frieze atop the right-most column of the alcove, then Oceanus and his eye-line, ending finally at the tension in the triton-horse sculptural group.

Title: --

Sunday, 7 July 2013

03.07 Eye-lines

The strongest implied line is the eye-line - the direction which someone is looking at. The eye-line owes its insistence to three factors:
  1. the high visual weight of the human face;
  2. the high visual weight of the eyes in the human face; and
  3. the Gestalt theory of Continuity.
Simply put, we want to see what others are looking at, because what interests someone else might well interest us too.

If eye-lines are present in a composition, they will nearly always be important structural elements because of their hard-to-dilute inherent power of directing the viewing eye. Eye-lines take two common forms:
  • Direct eye-contact with the viewer
    The observer has direct first-person involvement with the image. This kind of eye-line is the highest attractant.
  • Looking at another object
    Used to point out an object of interest, the observer has a third-person involvement. If the eye-line is directed at something out of frame, this introduces ambiguity which creates either delay or a sense of suspension.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

02.12 Visual weight

Visual weight is based on the idea that visual elements differ in their ability to draw attention to themselves - some do so more than others. Those elements which attract our eye more are described synesthetically as being visually 'heavier'.

Fluency with the use of visual weight allows an artist to convey importance of meaning and to establish order in a composition.

  • Importance of meaning
    Increasing the visual weight of an element elevates its importance, and decreasing its weight causes the element to recede into the conceptual background.
     
  • Establishing order
    The viewer's eye starts at the most attractive (i.e. attention-grabbing, not necessarily the most aesthetically pleasing) element and moves to the next-most attractive, and then the next. There is, therefore, an order to viewing: a hierarchy based on decreasing visual weight. Composers utilise this hierarchy to direct the viewer's sequence of seeing.
     
Visual weight is thus the building block of symmetry, balance, and harmony. Graphical factors which influence visual weight include:

1. Size
The more an object fills the frame, the greater its visual weight, the more its implicit importance.

2. Saturation
Richer, deeper hues are visually heavier than lighter, washed-out hues.

3. Contrast
The greater the tonal contrast, the more dynamic the image and the higher its visual weight.
A note of caution though - it's important to ask, "does this suit the mood of the image I want to create?". Sometimes a low-contrast image like that of the Venetian lagoon in a misty morning may have a more enduring appeal.

4. Placement
The further from the centre, the more dynamic the placement, the greater its visual weight. Note: the more extreme the placement, the greater the need for conceptual justification.

5. Complexity
An element may be made 'heavier' by aggregating it with identical elements to form a larger, more complex, patterned or textured mass (see the Gestalt Theories of Visual Perception).

6. Actuality
Drawn on our knowledge-base of real-world experience, a physically heavy object will be perceived as heavy. A mass of feathers in the foreground can be outweighed by a marble statue in the distance.

In addition to graphical elements, there are subjects which possess high attraction weightings:

I - The Human Face
Our eyes are highly attracted to the human face and particularly its informational components: the eyes and mouth.

II - Inscriptions
Writing, whether we understand the language or not, heavily draws the eye because of its informational value.

III - Emotional
A nebulous category and contingent upon the personal interests of the viewer, themes include: sexual e.g. burlesque; 'cuteness' e.g. puppies; horror e.g. genocide; fashion; disgust e.g. environmental contamination; desirable materials e.g. gems; and novelty items.

Monday, 1 July 2013

The Monumental Baroque Staircase, Giardino Bardini, Florence

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Diagonal lines (multiple); Diagonal lines (zig-zags)

Description: Taken in the very early Florentine spring, the planting has yet to come into bloom. Lines which are parallel in real life - like the staircase and the hedge; and the paths of each tier - are rendered non-parallel through the use of a wide-angle lens.

A restricted colour palette accentuates the form-lines; and it is the profusion of diagonal lines and their convergences (between paths, flower-bed edgings, stairs and hedges) which create zig-zagging sharp visual switch-backs that energise this picture.

Title: Playgrounds

Saturday, 29 June 2013

03.05 Diagonal lines

Diagonals have more freedom of direction than the Cartesian axes - verticals and horizontals - because they are released from alignment with the image frame.

1. Diagonals are dynamic
Where Cartesians have a sense of stability or being supported against the effects of gravity, diagonals have the opposite - of falling under gravity. Diagonals thus have greater dynamism associated with a feeling of speed.

2. Diagonals convey depth
Diagonals predominate the man-made environments as a result of linear perspective: non-centred straight lines or edges receding into the distance appear as diagonal lines.

Diagonal lines are thus important elements for their ability to direct a viewer's eye: we are programmed to follow the line of a diagonal because we use it for depth determination, and for gauging the speed of movement of an edge falling under the effects of gravity.

As seen in frame dynamics, diagonals interact with the image frame to create visual tension. For single diagonals, visual tension increases proportionately with the angle between the diagonal and the long side of the frame up to a maximum of 45 degrees. For multiple diagonals, visual tension:
  • has more 'weight' in the case parallel diagonals because the tension created by one diagonal with the image frame, is reiterated by identical tension from the other diagonals.
  • is strongest when there are multiple diagonals at different angles, where there is tension created between the diagonals as well as the image frame.
In practice, parallel diagonals can be achieved from high vantage points using the compressing effect of a telephoto lens. Multiple convergent diagonals can be achieved in low or close positions with a wide-angle lens.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

"Santa Trinità" by Masaccio, Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Quadrilaterals (rectangle)

Description: Masaccio's 'Trinity' began the Renaissance, the first time that realism was expressed since classical antiquity. It was composed as a Trompe-l'œil: an illusionary chapel to be viewed specifically from this point - the original entrance to the lower church in Basilica di Santa Maria Novella. The constraining rectangular form with its restricted formal viewing point is essential to the success of Masaccio's use of perspective.

Title: Worshipper's view

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Quadrilaterals (rectangle); Filling the frame (filling for presence); Frames within frames (enhancing perspective)

Description: (Close-up from the same position using the optical zoom function) Filling the frame to remove Trinity's grey surround increases its impact and enhances Masaccio's intended feeling of believable space.in which the humanity of the Father, Christ, the Virgin Mary and Saint John is portrayed.

Title: Volume

Monday, 17 June 2013

"Triumph of the Name of Jesus" by Giovanni Battista Gaulli, Chiesa del Gesù, Rome

Photograph Copyright ©2012 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Ambiguous (soluble); Delay (footprinting); Frames within frames (introducing movement); Frame shape (the 3:2 frame); Quadrilaterals (symmetrical)

Description: The viewer's eye is first captured by the detail and luminosity of the beautiful baroque creation, then the elongated parallelogram shape of the frame-within-a-frame moves the eye upward accentuated by the 3:2 image frame shape. Only finally, at the top of the picture is there a female figure indicating that the framed image is a reflection of the ceiling above.

Title: Taken to Light

Sunday, 16 June 2013

03.10 Quadrilaterals - symmetrical and asymmetrical

Rectangles and their perfect forms, squares, are easily found as literal forms in man-made environments. They are highly unusual, implied or literal, in the natural world.

Just as ellipses have a special relationship with circles, where ellipses are commonly interpreted as circles viewed at an angle not perpendicular to their plane; so do members in the group of symmetrical quadrilaterals.

Rectangles (including squares)
These are only seen as such when viewed along the central axis: a line passing through the exact centre of the shape running perpendicular to its plane.

Parallelograms
These are observed when rectangles are viewed on a perpendicular plane passing through the diagonal corners.

Trapezoids
These are observed when rectangles are viewed on a perpendicular plane bisecting two opposite sides.

Asymmetric quadrilaterals
These are seen when rectangles are viewed along axes not passing through a point of symmetry. They would likely be resolved as two triangles.

Thus not only are the points of a rectangle highly constrained in composition, but the angle of its viewing is too. Precision is of utmost importance when taking an image of a rectangle, as misalignments with the image frame are glaringly obvious. As a possible consequence of the due care required, deployment of rectangular elements lend a sense of formality, of controlled structure; and slightly less so with trapezoids and parallelograms.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Delay (unexpected phenomena)

Description: This is what happens when inadequate clues are provided; one doesn't know what the picture or lines mean. The viewer is unlikely to be able to resolve the ambiguity of the image and will move without understanding its meaning - the delay period to realisation becomes infinite.

Title: Zip-line

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.

Concept: Delay (unexpected phenomena)

Description: This picture makes much more sense as there are now enough visual cues for the ceiling fresco by Domenico Stagi (1782) to be resolved as a Trompe-l'œil.

Title: Ceiling opening

Friday, 14 June 2013

05.11 Delay

Key elements of a picture's narrative can be compositionally arranged in a manner that they are not immediately obvious. This results in a slow reveal of the story; a phenomenon known as delay. The prolonging of the viewing process turns engagement with the image into a significant event - delay is about the experience of the viewer who is required to expend some effort, to be rewarded by the surprise of realisation. Delaying tactics include:

1. Spatial reorganisation
The embedding of a key element is achieved through misdirection - pulling away to sequester the important detail instead of stepping in to highlight it; and using geometries under Gestalt perception to lead the eye along a different route.

2. 'Footprinting'
Referencing a subject which is out-of-frame - its shadow, reflection, or person's reaction to it.

3. Unexpected phenomena
Where something turns out to be other than what it first appears to be, such as a Trompe-l'œil.

The trick to successful delay lies in the provision of adequate clues to bring about realisation.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

A Greater Endeavour Uncovered

"That photography is truly a fine art has been proven for more than 100 years by a number of extraordinary photographers. The finest prints are always products of insight and excellent composition, subsequently carried through with impeccable technique."

Bruce Barnbaum in 'The Art of Photography - An Approach to Personal Expression' (pages 284-285).

That's it then. In one fell swoop Bruce Barnbaum has forced me to contemplate expansion of this project by pointing out that I may have put the cart of composition before the horse of insight. Drat! Actually this served only to crystallise what I've been coming to suspect (my wishlist on Amazon bears witness); that insight is the root of aesthetic communication.

I now need to plan the routes of reconfiguration.

Loo Yeo

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Bridges of Florence

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Lines (literal); Lines (implication); Cartesian lines (horizontal); Perspective (linear)

Description: Non-directional light resulting from overcast skies produces a low-contrast scene where the contiguity of shape can be better appreciated i.e. the lines of the bridges are maintained because they are not interrupted by the casting of strong dark shadows, thus emphasising their horizontality. The horizontal lines of the bridges' edges extend into implied lines - the windows of houses on the right river-bank - through Gestalt's Principle of Continuity.

The feeling of calm is reinforced by the ripples, which themselves gain horizontality with increasing distance - a by-product of linear perspective.

Title: Arno Oltrarno

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

03.04 Cartesian lines - horizontals and verticals

Two types of line - the horizontal and the vertical - deserve special attention, because together they:
  • comprise the Cartesian axes on an Euclidean plane (photographs and paintings are generally presented in two dimensions); and
  • become the frame of the viewfinder.
Horizontal lines
These are the most comfortable for us to view. This is because our natural field of vision is biased towards:
  1. scanning from side-to-side; and
  2. perceiving horizontal depth,
as a consequence of the lateral arrangement of our eyes. Horizontal lines convey a sense of stability and calm, of having lower energy, of something coming to rest from the effects of gravity - the properties associated with a base-line. The horizon is the most common horizontal line which we are exposed to.

Vertical lines
There is a higher energy cost for us to perceive in the vertical plane. Scanning from top-to-bottom and perceiving vertical depth often necessitates a tilt of the head: a weighty structure whose stable articulation under gravity consumes not inconsiderable energy. Vertical lines convey a sense of movement, speed and energy: of something falling due to gravity or moving to overcome its effect.

Horizontals and verticals in combination
Horizontal and vertical lines complement each other because they:
  • act as natural stops to each other's movements; and
  • create balance, of an upright being supported by a baseline.
When using these Cartesian axes, attention must be paid to align them exactly with the image frame, because their easy comparison renders misalignments glaringly obvious.

Monday, 10 June 2013

03.03 Lines

The human eye scans in 'saccades': straight-line jumps between points in the image field. But if there is just a single point in the image field, then the eye will jump between that point and parts of the image frame.

As the distance between a sequence of points decreases, a line is formed. Lines are the second-most basic graphical element and the first element put to paper during illustration. Furthermore Gestalt perception's Principles of Continuity and Completion, based on the notion that the eye has a propensity to forge straight lines, imbues lines with the attributes of direction, angle, length and flow.

Photographically, lines are often implied when there is less control over the shooting environment. Lines which exist literally are predominantly the edges of objects - perceived by the contrast in tone and/or colour on either side of the edge.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Frescoes of the Right Transept, Basilica di Santa Trinità, Florence

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Gestalt perception (continuity); Triangles (implication); Gestalt perception (proximity); Gestalt perception (similarity); Gestalt perception (common fate); Gestalt perception (completion); Balance (static equilibrium); Dividing the frame (simple geometric)

Description: The top of the vaulted arch (out of shot) forms the apex of an implied triangle by the Principle of Continuity, with its baseline at the cornice. Four triangles are contained therein: two actual ones, above two implied triangles of the chapel arches. The shadows and the altar of the Doni Chapel imply further triangles. Principles of Proximity and Similarity combine to Common Fate - completing the larger triangles of the chapels, and implying two more by the fall of shadows within them.

Title: Ascension

Saturday, 8 June 2013

02.03 Balance

The concept of balance lies at the centre of visual composition. Balance is the establishment of equilibrium through the resolution of visual tension in order to give images harmony.

Static equilibrium
Balance is achieved through symmetry, where elements of equal weight are placed equidistant from a central point or axis - everything 'falls away' from this centre evenly giving a measured, uniform feeling. The possibilities for symmetrical composition occur more frequently in man-made environments.

Dynamic equilibrium
Balance is achieved through asymmetry, where elements are placed at distances inversely proportional to their weight from the central point or axis - flow of movement from the centre occurs at different rates, accelerating and decelerating, giving rise to a sense of dynamism.

In practice, the environment rarely provides us with perfect conditions, so the resolution of visual tension from multiple sources cannot be achieved in a formulaic manner, requiring us instead to resort to the use of developed intuition.

Imbalance
Harmony may not be necessary or even desirable in the visual expression of an idea. The unease from a sense of unchecked falling, of suspension, or of a lack of resolution, can increase the intensity with which emotionally-charged content is experienced.

So perhaps it would be better to say that the concept of balance, its presence or absence, lies at the centre of visual composition.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Cappella del Crocefisso, Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, Florence

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.

Concept: Gestalt perception (closure); Circles and ellipses (implication); Gestalt perception (proximity); Gestalt perception (similarity); Gestalt perception (common fate)

Description: Inside the 12th century Florentine church of San Miniato al Monte, semi-circular Romanesque arches abound at its South-Eastern end. Grouped by proximity and similarity, the Principle of Common Fate is at play. The spread of light over the heads of Saints John Gualbert and Minias, depicted in the two large golden panels of the chapel, complete an implied circle begun by the chapel's vault under Gestalt's Principle of Closure.

Since common fate is in effect, one completed circle causes all the other circles to be completed.

Title: San Giovanni Gualberto's Redemption

Thursday, 6 June 2013

02.02 Gestalt Theory of Visual Perception

The human eye has only a very small area where images are sharply in focus - about 3% of its central field. In practice this amounts to less than a hand's span at arm's length. So, we 'see' by building up a composite image of our surroundings; our eyes flick point to point in jumps called saccades, taking in small pieces of visual imagery at a time which our brain then puts together. When we look at a photograph or painting, the same process applies.

The spatial arrangement of visual components affect the inferences we make: concerning their relationships to each other, and how they might coalesce into a comprehensive entirety. Our eyes might capture discrete images of a trunk, leaves, roots and branches, and yet our brain recognise their relationships and present us with a 'perceptual whole' of a tree.

The way pieces of visual information or elements are 'placed' into a whole - an aspect of perceptual organisation - was studied by Gestalt (meaning "organised whole") theorists in 1920s Germany. Although some parts of Gestalt theory have not withstood scientific advance, its principles concerning visual organisation are still relevant today.

Principles of Gestalt Perception

1. The Principle of Proximity
Things which are seen together will be thought of as belonging together i.e. grouped.
Example: If a row four identical items has a larger space in the middle, it will be seen as two groups of two.

2. The Principle of Similarity
Things of which have characteristics in common will be grouped together.
Example: six alternating rows of blue and yellow balls will be seen as three groups of blue and three groups of yellow.

3. The Principle of Common Fate
Items grouped through their proximity and similarity to each other are assumed to behave as one, sharing the same fate. The eye will want them to move together, or stay put together. Anticipations of a 'Common Fate' can be used to create visual movement and visual tension.

4. The Principle of Continuity
The eye has momentum; once it is made to follow a path, it will try to continue along that same path. This principle predicts a viewer's preference for continuous figures.
Example: a sequence of points will be joined up by the eye to imply a line, or a curving line (which will induce an eye to follow it) leads the eye to an object placed beyond the end the line.

5. The Principle of Closure
The mind seeks completeness. It has a tendency to fill in missing bits of information to make a whole; to complete simple shapes. This is develops out of the Principle of Continuity.
Example: a curved line of constant radius with its ends closer together will be visually completed into a circle, or two convergent lines may have their other ends joined to complete a triangle.

6. The Principle of Area
If there are two overlapping figures, the smaller is perceived to be in the foreground, the larger the background. This idea explains how we perceive which of two objects is in the foreground (the figure) and which is the background (the ground).
Example: a net, formed of two sets of diagonal lines each at right-angles to each other, has a smaller blank oval outline in its centre. The oval will seen as the 'figure', and the net as the 'ground'.

7. The Principle of Symmetry
Areas bounded by symmetrical contours are seen as closed-whole figures, rendering the perception of symmetrical areas as 'figures' preferentially over asymmetrical ones. This principle is developed out of the Principle of Area.

8. The Principle of Segregation
For the 'figure' to be perceived from the 'ground' there must be sufficient difference between the two. This is derived from the Principle of Common Fate and the Principle of Area. Figure-ground images, like those of Escher, exploit this for their ambiguity.

These principles suggest how our mind creates groups and areas in the visual field - how each group has common properties internally, and how they might relate to other groups externally - giving rise to:

Concepts in Gestalt Perception

I - Concept of Emergence
The mind can join the dots. Groups, which alone do not contain sufficient information for the full context, can be brought together and their possible relations explored until the meaning of the whole emerges.

II - Concept of Reification
Lacking sufficient information, the mind will act to fill in the empty space. The Principle of Closure demonstrates this.

III - Concept of Multistability
Lacking sufficient information, the mind will spontaneously move between the possible interpretations. For example, an absence of enough depth cues will cause a figure-ground inversion.

IV - Concept of Invariance
Objects will still be recognised irrespective of orientation and scale.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Battistero Neoniano, Ravenna, Emilia Romagnia

Photograph Copyright ©2012 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Circles and ellipses (literal)

Description: In the realm of visual composition, implied shapes are generally considered more interesting than literal shapes. The UNESCO-listed ceiling mosaic of the Neonian (Orthodox) Baptistery in Ravenna, whose strong content - the Apostles wheeling about the medallion depicting Christ's baptism; the framing within frames of concentric circles; the bright harmonious colours; the spokes and radial sections of the periphery vectoring inward - provide the finest demonstration of an exception to a rule.

Title: Conformity

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

A Sunflower in Classe, Emilia Romagna

Photograph Copyright ©2012 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Circles and ellipses (implication); Single point (centre); Frame shape (non-bias patterns)

Description: Fields of sunflowers line the way from Classe back to Ravenna. This is a classic photograph where a normally static central placement of a single point, the flower's centre, lets the sunflower's pattern tell the story. Sunflowers owe their dynamic pattern to the Fibonacci sequence, which encourage the eye to trace clockwise or counter-clockwise spirals simultaneously.

Multiple concentric circles are strongly implied, and the central point of focus is accentuated by the radiation of bright yellow petals whose tapered bases vector mildly inwards.

Title: Mesmerising

Monday, 3 June 2013

03.09 Circles and ellipses

In terms of opportunities for visual composition in the natural world, circles occur less frequently than triangles. This is because the points which would imply a circle have much less freedom of position. Without the support of a curving edge or line, the composer would require:
  • at least five points, because three points would be perceived as a triangle and four as a square;
  • the points, and track of any curve, to be equally distant from a central point in space; and
  • they would have to close enough to each other to provide perceptual closure.
Circles have an enclosing effect, tending to focus the eye inward towards their centre; therefore they are a powerful means of directing the viewer's attention into what they contain. There can also be a slight feeling movement along a circle's periphery which comes from its association with rotation.

Naturally-occurring circles include bubbles, the sun, the moon, and organisms featuring radial growth.

Ellipses, often interpreted as circles viewed at an angle, possess the same properties i.e. feeling of enclosure, and direction of attention inward to a focal point. Unlike a circle, ellipses have only two axes of symmetry and they have greater dynamism because the speed of visual flow changes - accelerating or decelerating - along its periphery.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Spring Showers on Ponte Vecchio, Florence

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Depth (diluting depth); Perspective (tonal); Perspective (colour); Perspective (sharpness); Muted colours (contemplative)

Description: The presence of historic Florence is immediately felt due to the downplay perspectival clues.
  • linear perspective - convergence of lines decreased using the zoom facility
  • tonal perspective - diffused lighting lowers the difference between foreground and background contrast
  • colour perspective - the lack of bright colours as worn by the pedestrians (by fortunate circumstance) and muted by lighting conditions, causes the foreground elements to recede, while the bright golden orb atop the Duomo appears to advance, compressing the viewing planes together. 
  • sharpness - outlines of distant buildings are only slightly less sharp

Title: --

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Tags and the 200 character limit

That's right. The first limitation I've come across in the blog is that the tag/label field has a maximum of 200 hundred characters only! Google doesn't anticipate that someone would use cross-referencing to the extent that I do.

So what's the way forward?

It's to prioritise the index/concept numbers (e.g. 01.02.3) over the concept names (e.g. Concept: frame shape). The concept numbers will be tagged as completely as possible; followed by the concepts by name, in relevance order. Not ideal, but the small 'bright side' is that the limit forces me to identify the priority order of concepts.

Orti Farnesiani's Terrace, Palatine Hill, Rome

Photograph Copyright ©2012 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Depth (strengthening depth); Perspective (aerial); Perspective (colour); Perspective (tonal); Diagonal lines

Description: Taken from a little nook on Palatino in Orti Farnesiani, this scene successfully incorporates depth-enhancing cues. Multiple interconnected planes: the garden wall on the right; the edge of a Farnesiani pavilion framing the left; the sharply-lit tree trunk; the cypress behind it; the pine in the centre; the terrace balustrade; the temples lining Via Sacra of Foro Romano beyond, and Il Vittoriano in the distance (on the left) are bathed in strong directional light

Aerial perspective (from atmospheric haze), colour perspective (warmer hues in the foreground, cooler hues in the background) and tonal perspective (higher contrast at the front, decreasing as distance increases) are at play. Viewing lines are directed in zig-zagging diagonals to the image frame, creating a feeling of dynamic energy.

Title: Hidden Terrace

Friday, 31 May 2013

02.11 Depth

Photography, like Renaissance painting, seeks to manipulate perspective; to reduce or enhance feelings of depth in the image. Control of perspective, and therefore management of image depth, may be achieved using the below. However when applying these controls, you must remember that each image has its own viewpoint - its own distinct frame of reference - which is quite separate from viewpoints outside of its frame. (See later post).

Controlling Depth Clues

Strengthening depth
  • multiple connected planes
  • use a wide-angle lens very close to the subject, angled to a distant object
  • more directional lighting, less diffused lighting
  • brighter tones in the foreground, darker tones in the background
  • warmer hues in the foreground, cooler hues in the background
  • have a short depth-field of focus such that the subject plane is in focus but those on other planes are less so
  • place relative scale markers (e.g. human figures) as reference points on each plane

Diluting depth
  • fewer planes, disconnected
  • use a telephoto lens (or zoom facility) with a viewpoint as far away from the subject with few distance reference markers in-between
  • less directional lighting, more diffused lighting
  • darker tones in the foreground, brighter tones in the background
  • cooler hues in the foreground, warmer hues in the background
  • maximise the depth-field of focus so that distant objects are as sharp as nearby ones
  • reduce atmospheric haze (using filters) to compensate for tonal changes

Thursday, 30 May 2013

02.10 Perspective

Perspective is the appearance of objects arranged in space, from the viewpoint of the observer. It is one of the defining characteristics of Renaissance art, distinguishing it from the late-medieval Gothic art which preceded it, and one of the reasons why this project on visual composition began.

Optics presents distant objects as being comparatively smaller than identical ones nearby, and yet, our brain is able to understand them as being small and yet full-scale simultaneously. Multiple identical points arranged into two lines equidistant from each other; for example, milestones on either side of a straight road, will appear to get closer to each other (converge) as we travel further away from them, even though we know they remain the same distance apart. This is the perceptual phenomenon of "scale constancy".

We should have a conscious knowledge of the perspectival clues our eyes recognise when comprehending depth, as a necessary first step to being able to control the feeling of depth in an image.

Perspectival clues
  1. Linear perspective
    Two or more parallel lines converge or imply convergence at a distant vanishing point. This applies vertically as well as horizontally, but the latter is easier for the eye to accept.
  2. Diminishing perspective
    A special instance of linear perspective, where objects of known scale have aspects in inverse proportion to their distance from the viewer e.g. a single row of trees receding into the distance.
  3. Aerial perspective
    Contrast and colour tone diminish as distance increases due to diffusion by atmospheric haze.
  4. Colour perspective
    Air absorbs warmer-hued light (longer wavelengths) than colder-hues; we perceive warmer colours as advancing and cooler colours as receding.
  5. Tonal perspective
    As a result of our reality-exposure to atmospheric diffusion, we perceive higher contrasts as being closer to us and lower contrasts as farther away.
  6. Sharpness
    Diffusion of light due to atmospheric haze makes the outlines of distant objects less sharp.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concepts: Frame shape (an uninsistent frame)

Description: A bright clear day on Piazzale Michelangelo overlooking Florence. The scene abounds with colours, textures, and points of interest - there is plenty of potential for re-composition through cropping.

Title: Florence uncut


Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concepts: Cropping; Horizon (emphasising sky)

Description: A strong crop from both top and bottom frame edges with more space given over to the sky, the original width is retained. The eye sees the arrow-like high cloud formation right-of-centre which directs it down to the hill onto the spires of Florence. The thin ratio of ground to sky is intentionally unbalanced, concentrating the eye strongly on the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Despite the higher proportion of sky, the most visual tension centres around the Duomo.

Title: Heaven on Earth


Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concepts: Cropping; Horizon (foreground interest)

Description: A crop from both top and bottom frame edges with space given over to the foreground, the original width is retained. Palazzo Serristori, the reddish-brown mansion in the centre, is the visual fulcrum of the image  - an apex of at least three triangles with Brunelleschi's dome and Torre d'Arnolfo; Brunelleschi's dome and the viewing platform; and with the topiary hedge.

Title: Seeing Florence


Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concepts: Cropping; Horizon (similar proportions)

Description: A crop from both top and bottom frame edges with emphasis upon the middle distance, the original width is unchanged. This time Torre d'Arnolfo is the first draw, followed by Palazzo Serristori, and then Brunelleschi's dome creating a single triangle. Ponte Vecchio assumes more prominence, setting up a line through the tower and dome, and a lesser triangle with the tower and the palazzo. This is a simpler, more coherent composition to that with foreground dominant.

Title: Three Icons


Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concepts: Cropping; Frame shape (shooting vertically)

Description: An all-around crop to vertical format is possible. In this case the message is the human activity of the foreground against a historic city backdrop. The fore and mid-ground textures would be too dense if they weren't balanced by suitable expanse of sky.

Title: --

Photograph Copyright ©2013 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concepts: Cropping; Frame shape (the square frame)

Description: An all-around crop to the challenging square format. Composing in a square frame can be awkward, and cropping helps us achieve it post-capture. Although the perspective best shows off the direction of light on the bell tower of Chiesa di San Niccolò in the lower right, and then the curve of the Arno sweeping up to the three bridges, there's a touch too much sky for perfect balance - but that lends a restless energy to this composition.

Title: --

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

01.08 Cropping

Cropping is part of the optional editing process which happens after the photograph has been taken. It occurs often in the print-making from black-and-white film, where darkroom development is within easy reach. Print-making from colour film is much more complicated, and most photographers resort to commercial labs where the process is taken out of their hands. However with the advent of digital photography, the editing process has seen a resurgence.

Cropping, or the process of removing sections from the image frame inwards, is very powerful because:
  • it can alter the visual composition and hence the message of the image;
  • design decisions can be deferred from the instance of image capture; and
  • it allows for new possibilities of composition to be explored.
The trade-off is that cropping is a subtractive process - there is a loss of information, so images should be taken in as high a resolution as possible. Excessive reliance of post-production processes, especially cropping, can lead to sloppy composition at the time of capture. It's always better to start off with the best possible original material.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Castel Sant'Angelo by Night, Rome

Photograph Copyright ©2012 Loo Yen Yeo. All Rights Reserved.
Concept: Curves (relationship to straight lines); Curves (implication); Multiple points (line dynamics)

Description: The curving sweep of the Tiber's northern bank accelerates the eye towards the sodium-lit ramparts of Castel Sant'Angelo, the brightest-lit patch of the photograph, and then across Ponte Sant'Angelo (perpendicular to the curve's tangent at that point) to the southern bank.

Title: Sant'Angelo - a beacon in Tiberian night