Gestalt Theory for Photography

 

 

Gestalt theory, based on Gestalt Psychology of the early 1900’s, is summed up in the adage “the whole is more than the sum of its parts”.  Gestalt theory is taught to graphic designers so they can create more dynamic, impactful and memorable images.

 

 When applied to photography the theory shows us how our brains look for structure and patterns in order to organize and simplify complex images. Our brains group together parts of an image instead of treating at it as a series of unconnected elements. Viewing images in this way, gives the viewer a visual understanding of the photograph in a very short period of time. Basically, in the blink of an eye, as little as 13 milliseconds. Faster than the shutter on the camera that took the photo.

 

Creating more engaging photographs starts by understanding how the viewer will “see” the photograph. We think that it should be the way we see it, but the viewer lacks a powerful element which distorts our view: the original experience. When you remove the emotions of the experience, does the photograph still resonate with the viewer as it did with us? To truly share that moment, we need to apply the composition rules we can learn through Gestalt.

 

The following 10 Gestalt theory ideas should help you on your quest to create better photographs. As you learn to apply these guidelines, you should be able to capture the photograph you want in camera!

 

This list shows 10 ways the brain, as defined by Gestalt, reads your photographs.

 

  1. Figure/Ground   The eye quickly decides what is the subject or figure and what is the background. When this is unclear the photograph appears unstable to the viewer. If the photograph is unstable, so is the message.
  2. Similarity   Shape, size, color or texture can allow the eye to perceive things as belonging together.
  3. Focal Points  These are points of interest that draw the eye and hold the attention of the viewer. Certain colors white, yellow, red draw naturally draw the eye, so we have to be careful that the focal points are chosen by us and not distractions that appear in the scene.
  4. Continuation   Eyes natural follow lines and implied lines, such as the gaze of a subject. When lines, or implied lines head in a direction it is assumed that they continue out of frame.
  5. Symmetry  Symmetry, when used in photography, gives the viewer a sense of order and solidarity.
  6. Closure  The eyes and brain work together in processing the world. The brain will fill in gaps of missing information to get closure.
  7. Proximity  Things that are close together belong together. This can create a sense of emotional warmth.
  8. Parallelism   Elements that are parallel appear more related than elements that are not.
  9. Common Fate   Elements that appear to move or even look in the same direction appear related to each other. Someone just looking in a different direction will then appear as an “outsider”.
  10. Connectedness   If we draw lines on the art showing the invisible lines, curves and shapes, we can see how connected the subjects appear to be to each other. If we are shooting group or family portraits, it is important that these lines connect the entire group.

 

Assignment in two parts:

 

One: Pull up photographs on the Internet and find an example for each of the 10 principles listed above.

Two: Create photographs to illustrate each of the 10 principles.

 


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