Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Create Visual Tension
Compositional techniques from Guy Tal will help you to make dynamic images through the graphic design principles of gestalt
A simple example is that of diagonal lines. Studies show that for most people, images unfold from left to right, meaning, for example, that a line rising from left to right is perceived as pointing "up," whereas a line descending from left to right is pointing "down." Up and down, in turn, are relative to the bottom edge of the frame, giving it the visual equivalent of the force of gravity that we may associate with the physical ground we walk on. Anything that overcomes this gravity, such as lines rising from left to right, is intuitively associated with force and positive emotions, while anything that yields to it, such as lines descending from left to right, often is associated with subtlety, calmness or even a sense of melancholy.
Now, consider an image where some lines rise from left to right while others descend. When it's not immediately clear whether the image as a whole is rising or descending, forceful or calm, positive or negative, the brain must take a little longer and pay a little more attention to decide. In other words, the simple mixing of opposing diagonal lines can create visual tension.
Studies also show that areas of visual gravity exist at the center of the frame and around each corner. These specific spots act as visual magnets, pulling on elements near them. An item placed close to the center or to one of the corners will be perceived as moving toward it. In contrast, an item placed right at the center of the frame will be perceived as static, held in place, having no direction or motion, prompting the brain to decide that it may not be worth attention. Similarly, items placed too close to the corners will be perceived as being pulled away from the center, leading the viewer toward the edge of the frame. It's likely you've heard that placing your main subject off-center is good practice, or that visual elements need "breathing room," and shouldn't be placed too close to the edges. Placing visual elements anywhere between the points of gravity prompts the brain to resolve the balance of forces at play, creating visual tension. This is one reason why the Rule of Thirds, for example, is a good idea.
Guy Tal is a longtime contributor to Outdoor Photographer. You can see more of his photography, read his blog, and learn about his books and workshops at guytal.com.
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