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.