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