18th October 2018 – ROC 1 and Visual Weight

Saving our bacon by coming in as a late replacement judge, Beryl Heaton got the Reflex Open Competition 2018-19 underway. The club thanks her for stepping up, even if we did rather make it more difficult than it strictly needed to be!

The entries were as varied as usual and there is a definite benefit to seeing and listening to someone with experience critique work, our own and others. Agreeing or disagreeing is one thing, and we will quite naturally, but analysing why is at the heart of our development.

So it is as much about looking with a purpose as anything else. This is a process that transfers logicically into our practice of taking photographs. We have light falling on a subject within a frame. The trick is to manipulate the elements in that frame into an interesting story.

The minimum we will have in any picture is figure and background (aka figure and ground). This is a psychological principle and describes how we see an object. Reading this we can see the words (figure) against background (the electronic “paper”). We ‘togs think of this as contrast.

Contrast, that which we use to direct the attention of the viewer to our subject, comes in two varieties. Tonal and colour. Tonal is all the shades from absolute black to absolute white. Colour is the way colours interact with each other.

An image that is high contrast has strong black and strong white with little in the way of greys. Low contrast images have very little by way of highlights and shadows. Normal contrast, well, that is somewhere in between. These are an active part of composition.

Composition is the ordering of elements within the frame. Some things are more important than others, they have more gravity and pull our attention towards them, demanding more of our attention. We have a limited amount of attention to pay so will concentrate on what has the most visual weight.

Our brains assign an importance, a weighting, to objects in our frame and this is what we use to our creative advantage. Knowing this we can apply the tools of composition to manipulate this concept of visual weight to maximise the impact of an image by affecting the balance of objects within the frame. As with contrast there are opposites, though these labelled heavy and light so:

  • LARGER we perceive as HEAVIER. Big we tend to perceive as heavy and more visually dominant.

  • DARKER we perceive HEAVIER. This is especially the case if the background is generally light.

  • HIGH CONTRAST we perceive HEAVIER. This is similar to the above principle. A high contrast subject draws attention to itself.

  • COMPLEX we perceive as HEAVIER. Multiplying something gives it more weight as the brain naturally groups them together making them perceptually larger.

  • LIGHT COLOUR we perceive as LIGHTER. The less saturated a colour (like sky blue), the less visual weight it has. You need a lot of it to balance out the heavier elements in a scene.

  • PHYSICALLY HEAVY we perceive HEAVY. Because it is, and we know it, it gets more visual weight too.

  • INTERESTING PLACEMENT we perceive HEAVY. Objects placed in the corners or on a third yield more visual weight as per the rule of thirds. There is another tool that is related to do with the treatment of what is called negative space.

These observations by themselves need some managing, of course, but the good news is that we can see these effects quite immediately. We need to balance the effects to good use, that is, too much is too much and undermines the overall effect at best and creates a total mess at worst.

The trick is to take an instant to ask ourselves “Does it balance?” before pressing the shutter.

101 Corner – Focusing

If we have anything but a fixed lens on our camera (and even with some that do) we have the capacity (and the need) to use some focusing system or other. It’s all about getting a sharp image.

This can get a little confusing at first because we have Auto Focus and we have Manual Focus and there will be as many opinions as people you ask as to why they choose any particular mode. To make things worse there are usually three different types of autofocus and two different systems to make it work.

Then someone tells us that we absolutely must use back-button focus.

As usual, much of this is hearsay or ignorance. Each of the autofocus options are designed with certain types of shooting in mind. Manual focus is far easier on manual focusing lenses. Autofocus is the one that makes sense most of the time.

The different autofocus modes are: Single frame (one picture then refocus) which suits most stills photographers most of the time; Continuous, used by videographers and when there is a constantly moving subject, such as using burst mode; Automatic where the camera decides which you need (not a feature on all cameras).

There is a fuller explanation to be found on this link and you can try the situations set out in this explanatory video. If in doubt start with Single Point Single Frame focusing.