Monday, April 8, 2013
Sponsored Tip: Developing A Personal Style: Delay
I'm going to talk about one of the most important elements to creating enduring images...
This tip article by Brian Dilg comes to us courtesy of New York Film Academy Photography School, where he serves as the Chairman of the New York Film Academy Photography Conservatory. Dilg is an internationally published and collected photographer and award-winning filmmaker with more than 20 years of professional teaching experience around the world.
In order to build this element of time into the experience of looking at a picture, we need to understand how human beings read a photo - literally what we notice first. The image of the woman in profile with her eyes closed demonstrates many of these elements: in order to take in an entire image, we tend to step back (depending on the size of the image) so our field of vision can take in the entire frame at once. Our fovea, the part of our eyes that sees sharp detail, only really works with what we're looking directly at in a very narrow field of vision, so we tend to notice the center of the frame first - the part we're looking straight at. The further away from center, the longer it usually takes us to scan and notice it. There are no hidden or delayed elements in this portrait; this is a very straightforward image.
What else attracts our attention? In a nutshell, lumosity, bright colors, sharp focus, larger object sizes, human forms, and patterns (repeated visual motifs - see my previous post on this topic). Once we know this about the human visual experience, we can delay perception of certain elements in a photo by employing the opposite of these qualities: darkness, desaturation, blur (through de-focusing or motion blur), smaller sizes, etc.
In terms of color, the most luminous colors (particularly the warm yellow-orange-red family) "pop" or stand out. Less luminous colors such as some blues or purples tend to recede. A great principle to remember is that the size of an object can be in inverse proportion to the luminosity of its color. I.e., small spots of bright colors like yellow or red work well in a sea of blue, but the inverse of that, not so much.
Luminosity: in the "Alpha Dog" image of the woman with the three dalmations, most viewers notice the dogs first. They are bright, their spotted pattern is distinctive and contrasty, and their faces are turned at least in profile to camera, whereas the woman's face is hidden from us. But despite the fact that she is centered in the frame, most viewers don't notice the paw prints in her sweater until later (most likely because they are dark and low in contrast), and then have that "aha" experience of "catching up" to everything the photographer is up to.
The image of the tree under the Manhattan Bridge illustrates the same principle in reverse: the tree and bridge keep demanding our attention over the buildings in the background, because they are sharply rendered with high contrast, whereas the buildings live in a constrained, high-key end of the tonal palette (rendered that way by a blinding blizzard).
Most viewers notice the woman in the mask first; the fact that she is the largest figure in the frame, carefully framed, well-lit, her attention obviously engaged with someone off-camera, and wearing a mask that seems unusual in context all contribute to this. But the fact that she is rendered out of focus is a clue that she is not truly the subject of the image; it is in fact the smaller face of the woman lurking behind her dressed as a cat, and making a rather catty expression. Hopefully the viewer "discovers" this smaller figure after a moment's delay, and enjoys inferring why their expressions might be as they are.
Keep in mind that the size of your print can be a major factor in the way viewers perceive the image. Thus, looking at tiny, low-resolution JPEGs online is far from an ideal demonstration of these principles.
To summarize, don't put all your cards on the table at once. Reward those viewers who pay close attention. We are not delaying complete perception as a gimmick; a well-constructed image will exploit the way human beings read an image to create that rewarding experience of discovery no matter how many times they look at the image. Those are the kinds of images collectors like to hang on their walls, and are excited to show their friends. They endure; they don't exhaust.
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