Today I thought I’d share some notes from one of my first lessons in photography – composition. Before you close your browser on my post about composition, I thought it would be helpful if I added some current photos of how composition influences what we read and see everyday, such as magazines, catalogs, and photos on the Internet. So if you’ll indulge me, scroll down this post, and I’ll show you some side-by-side comparisons of the photos my professors shared to highlight composition with current ads/articles/catalog photos and photographers of today.
My professor began the lesson on Gestalt. What is gestalt you say? Here is the Merrian-Webster dictionary’s full definition:
“a structure, configuration, or pattern of physical, biological, or psychological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by summation of its parts.”
In other words, it means that the “whole is more than the sum of its parts.”
Developed by German psychologists in the early 1920s, the Gestalt principle tries to understand what the human eye perceives, trying to form meaning in objects seen. Here are four general principles that help our eyes process objects seen in our view:
Proximity – The closer objects are, the more they are alike.
Similarity – Our eyes try to form meanings in a photograph, such as finding relationships between texture and size.
Continuity – Using shapes/lines in a photograph, it leads our eye around, emphasizing economy and simplicity.
Closure – Our eyes seek to find visual completion, seeing the wholeness of an image. When our eye is pulled off the page of a photo/image, we find it frustrating.
Examples of Using Gestalt Principles
Now, here’s the fun part. I looked through several current magazines, catalogs, and some current photographers online to share some comparisons of how these principles are being used in everyday life.
1. Spot or Point
Do you notice where your eye leads you? Source: Emmet Gowin Photography and Charles Tyrwhitt Men’s Clothing Catalog
Harry Callahan was considered a modernist, taking photos of objects that make you wonder what they are, such as weeds coming out of snow (a photo with high contrast) in the example below.
Arnold Newman, who focused on an environmental portraiture, would use objects to tell us about a person. For example, this is a photo of Igor Stravinsky who orchestrated and created the ballet work of “The Rite of Spring,” an avant-garde piece that caused a riot with attendees during its debut.
Harry Callahan, again, focuses close-up, which makes you question what the subject is. In the example of the buildings with windows, it begins the suggest the people who live behind those windows.
Source: Harry Callahan and Family Fun Magazine
Barbara Morgan is known for using electronic flash in her photography to stop motion in a frame.
Source: Barbara Morgan and Athleta Catalog
When Emmet Gowin photographed his niece surrounded by dolls, he used space and proximity to make you focus on the groups. Thus, Gowin’s niece almost begins to portray doll-like features.
Source: Emmet Gowin and Memecenter.com
Mary Ellen Mark photographs underrepresented groups, which makes you pause for a moment about the perceptions and realities of life, such as how we view underrepresented groups, how she wants us to see them, etc.
Source: Mary Ellen Mark and Real Simple Magazine
In another work of Mary Ellen Mark’s photography, notice how the elephant’s trunk frames the face of the man.
Source: Mary Ellen Mark and Family Fun Magazine
Don’t you love how we photograph our children and share with our family and friends on Facebook? Sally Mann is a well-known photographer who predominantly used her children as the subject of her work, well before we were doing that on Facebook.
Source: Sally Mann and J.Crew Catalog
10. Point of View
Point of view takes on the vantage point of the subject. Is the camera being held up at something, which makes the subject look monumental? Is the camera being held at eye level, taking on the the subject’s point of view? Is the camera being held down at something, which minimizes the subject?
Source: Constantine Manos and California Almonds Ad in Real Simple Magazine
11. Visual Relationships
Here in Emmet Gowin’s work, he photographed his wife Edith and Edith’s sister. Guess which one is Edith, the dominant subject in the photo?
I hope you enjoyed these photos and can see how photographs (even on billboards as you drive on the highway) influence us in our daily lives. Maybe you’ll start to have a Matrix moment as I did after class. My view of the world began to look like a billion photographs snapping at the same time. Okay, I kid, but it has changed the way I perceive photographs around me.
What interesting photographs in ads, billboards, articles are catching your eye these days?
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American History of Photography, the Darkroom, and the Unintended Photogram
From my hometown to yours,