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Art Theory: Idea workshop. Warning, not the truth here, just a venture. Examining what makes an image worthy of saving and what it does for us.

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  #1  
Old July 3rd, 2010, 08:55 AM
Bart_van_der_Wolf Bart_van_der_Wolf is offline
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Default There are no rules in composition, really?


To illustrate, probe, demonstrate and refute guides
or schemes for enhancing composition of pictures.

Free wheeling social discussion and anecdotes,
will likely be moved
here.



Every time I hear people say that there are no rules to producing good photography, or even worse there are no composition rules, I can only smile. Of course the making of a photograph can serve many goals. One may want to evoke a feeling, or just document a happening. But for those who want to earn their keep, or even just want to make more appealing images, the saying "beauty sells" will have an attractive ring to it. It becomes interesting if we realise that most people recognize 'beauty' instinctively and instantly, and that there are indeed rules. When we realise that there are rules, we can try and use them to make our images more "beautiful", or by deviating from the rules perhaps create something a bit unsettling (if that's the emotion we are after).

Here is a short lecture by Chris McManus, professor of psychology at the University College London, a fascinating lecture about the difference between looking and seeing. He uses some of Piet Mondriaan's later paintings to get his message across. It was recorded in the Netherlands and (unfortunately) has a Dutch intro and subtitles for the TV broadcast, so just skip the intro and go to 1:07 and enjoy (you can also skip the 2 following contributions in Dutch in that video if you like):
http://www.hetgesprek.nl/archief/3000/


http://www.ucl.ac.uk/medical-educati...-Beauty-V2.jpg


Interesting stuff, isn't it?

Cheers,
Bart


P.S. Here are some related papers by Prof. McManus, http://www.ucl.ac.uk/medical-education/reprints/1997EmpiricalStudiesArts-GoldenSection.PDF and "Beyond the golden section".

Last edited by Asher Kelman; September 24th, 2015 at 10:32 AM.
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  #2  
Old July 3rd, 2010, 05:23 PM
John Angulat John Angulat is offline
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Thanks Bart, very interesting piece.
One of the highlights of this video was the bell curve.
Sadly, I'm generally found on the far left (including my attempts at discerning the real works of art).
Oh well, at least I finally have found validation for the decorating scheme of my home!
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Old July 3rd, 2010, 09:42 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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[QUOTE=Bart_van_der_Wolf;99952.

Here is a short lecture by Chris McManus, professor of psychology at the University College London, a fascinating lecture about the difference between looking and seeing. He uses some of Piet Mondriaan's later paintings to get his message across. [/quote]

Bart,

I enjoyed so much the first lecture. Having the lecture in English and the subtitles in Dutch and knowing some German was a beautiful way of getting feeling for expressions in Dutch. Chris McManus did not say how he controlled for prior knowledge of Mondrian's work. That, after giving a Google survey demonstrating how Mondrian's designs had penetrated every part of our culture, is surprising. Although he keeps repeating he's a scientist throughout the lecture, he doesn't even raise the issue of prior knowledge and bias from the mass marketing of Mondrian's designs.

All he said was that we can sort of agree on choices of what's more agreeable. However, he didn't give us anything much we can be sure of or use.

Asher
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  #4  
Old July 3rd, 2010, 09:46 PM
Rachel Foster Rachel Foster is offline
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I haven't watched the video yet, but I feel compelled to urge caution...a professor of psychology? Oh, my, my, my.
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  #5  
Old July 4th, 2010, 04:44 AM
Bart_van_der_Wolf Bart_van_der_Wolf is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Asher Kelman View Post
Bart,

I enjoyed so much the first lecture. Having the lecture in English and the subtitles in Dutch and knowing some German was a beautiful way of getting feeling for expressions in Dutch. Chris McManus did not say how he controlled for prior knowledge of Mondrian's work. That, after giving a Google survey demonstrating how Mondrian's designs had penetrated every part of our culture, is surprising. Although he keeps repeating he's a scientist throughout the lecture, he doesn't even raise the issue of prior knowledge and bias from the mass marketing of Mondrian's designs.
Hi Asher,

That's correct, but he did start out with the apparent preference for certain rectangle proportions in pairwise comparisons. That's already stunning. So there seem to be certain ratio's that appeal to our sense of aesthetics more than others (see DaVinci, or Fibonacci). Mondriaan raised it to a whole new level by combining shapes and colors into stunning combinations, and the majority of people have relatively little problem picking out which is which, the real thing or a computer altered version. So Mondriaan did something that appeals more to our sense of beauty" than the alternative does.

The question/quest then becomes, what is it that makes the difference, and how solid a predictor is it.

Quote:
All he said was that we can sort of agree on choices of what's more agreeable. However, he didn't give us anything much we can be sure of or use.
In one of his papers (The golden section and the aesthetics of form and composition: A cognitive model) he discusses that:
"Preference for placing objects within a pictorial field has demonstrated (as did preferences for rectangles and other simple figures), that the golden section may well not actually be the 'most liked' but rather the 'least disliked' - the lowest common denominator of a range of different preference functions.".

While not as clear as a definite 'yes', it also is not an absolute 'no'. And indeed, 'beauty' could also be described as a relative lack of 'ugly'. Ultimately it's the amount of either harmony or tension that sets the stage for how an image is perceived. Other experts, in the field of human perception, show that we start with rough pattern recognition and then gradually fill in the details if they are useful for the task at hand, so the atmosphere of an image is determined before the details enter the equaton.

Cheers,
Bart
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Old July 4th, 2010, 05:15 AM
Bart_van_der_Wolf Bart_van_der_Wolf is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachel Foster View Post
I haven't watched the video yet, but I feel compelled to urge caution...a professor of psychology? Oh, my, my, my.
Hi Rachel,

Don't worry, I have a healthy distrust myself but this guy is pleasant to listen to and has a nice sense of humor.

Cheers,
Bart
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Old July 4th, 2010, 05:32 AM
Leonardo Boher Leonardo Boher is offline
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As far as I know, all nature is made from the golden proportions because it fits in all the stuff inside the Creation (which stomps out the chaos theory, btw). And all what you see that catches your eye always is in some manner, in harmony.
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  #8  
Old July 4th, 2010, 06:59 AM
fahim mohammed fahim mohammed is offline
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Psychologists are nothing more than consultants; if you ask them for the time, they look at your watch
and tell the time.

Human nature...that is what psychologists tell you. About you and others.

People read from left to right? Wrong, some do it from top to bottom. Cross the street, look left, Wrong if you are in Britain and the Commonwealth. Built-in biases. Upbringing.

Golden rules? The Greeks knew about it! See sea shells..you will know about spiral algorithms.

Contrasts? Nature is all around you. Color combinations? Look at the forest, the leaves, the tree trunks the sky.

Yell ' fire ' in a crowded room? I do not need a psychologist to tell me what happens.

Just observe. See what humans do, how they behave. How you behave. What appeals to you, in
a photograph, in a painting etc.

Want to direct someones attention in a direction? Don't need a psychologist. Just let a persons eyes
look in tht direction. You will too. Guaranteed. It is inbuilt. Within ourselves.

Psychologists have value. If you want someone to tell you what you should know but do not think you know.

Blank slate, all white. one red dot somewhere on it. Where do your eyes go first? That is what a
psychologist tells you ( and charges you for the why? )
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Old July 4th, 2010, 07:13 AM
Rachel Foster Rachel Foster is offline
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Sometimes, Fahim. Sometimes.

Put two psychologists in a room and you'll often have three opinions. You should see faculty meetings in a psych department! All by way of saying that while psychology (and psychologists for the most part) base their opinions on scientific research, we can never prove anything. It's a process and there are always factors, "third variables" we didn't account for. Thus, rules are "made to be broken."
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Old July 4th, 2010, 08:27 AM
fahim mohammed fahim mohammed is offline
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Default Viewer Discretion Advised...

Watch commercials, ads etc. You will see the best psychological brains in action.

Psychology in action?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqQ2vpy8uAQ

No comments from me.
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  #11  
Old September 18th, 2015, 12:33 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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This is a subject worthy of attention! So.......



What guides us in composition?
  • Native intuition

  • Experience

  • Actual rules that one tried to apply as often as possible

  • Creating pleasing look

  • Attention-GettingA sense of "Unity" or disorder

  • An experience of "balance" or "harmony"

  • A sense of going against expectations

  • Some other factors


Let's share our approaches to "composition" and any references that serve as a great guide!


asher
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  #12  
Old September 18th, 2015, 05:18 PM
Maris Rusis Maris Rusis is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bart_van_der_Wolf View Post
Every time I hear people say that there are no rules to producing good photography, or even worse there are no composition rules, I can only smile......
Bart, I think you are absolutely correct.

Years ago I lectured on "The Rules of Composition" as part of a 8 week certificate course in photography. Most of the students were teenagers and their attitude to the lecture was along the lines of "Leave it out guv. We don't need no steenkin' rules of composition. We're artists and we break rules because we're after exciting new vision." The lecture never went really well and occasionally degenerated into argument.

When the material was retitled: "Secret Techniques - how to make people unwittingly fall in love with your pictures. They won't know why but you will" the acceptance rate was much better. Of course it was the rules of composition all over again. And I think the students made better pictures too.
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Old September 18th, 2015, 05:30 PM
Doug Kerr Doug Kerr is offline
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Hi, Maris,

Quote:
Originally Posted by Maris Rusis View Post
Bart, I think you are absolutely correct.

Years ago I lectured on "The Rules of Composition" as part of a 8 week certificate course in photography. Most of the students were teenagers and their attitude to the lecture was along the lines of "Leave it out guv. We don't need no steenkin' rules of composition. We're artists and we break rules because we're after exciting new vision." The lecture never went really well and occasionally degenerated into argument.

When the material was retitled: "Secret Techniques - how to make people unwittingly fall in love with your pictures. They won't know why but you will" the acceptance rate was much better. Of course it was the rules of composition all over again. And I think the students made better pictures too.
A great story! Thanks so much.

Best regards,

Doug
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Old September 18th, 2015, 10:15 PM
Tom dinning Tom dinning is offline
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My oh my. The dreaded rule game and aesthetics.
Good luck on this one. Separating the facts from fiction will be hard enough, let alone sorting through the opinions. I'm not confident about leaving the decisions in the hands of a psychologist either. The ones I know wouldn't know a Rembrandt from a rattle snake.

The thing that puzzles me is the way 'art' uses mathematics to justify ideas. The math is precise; the art is full of conjecture. Applying precision to art seems contradictory.

Unlike Maris, I don't teach 'rules'. Nor was I ever taught the rules. I don't know if our results differ. That's too subjective. In both our cases I'm confident in suggesting the students are satisfied with their progress.

There is always room for rules in art if one chooses, as there is for creativity in science.
Being a teacher of physics as well as art (photography) it's possible and advantageous to blend the two but not so much that the value of each is lost in the other.

Creative thinking and 'breaking the rules' in physics has brought us a long way. It has enabled us to set new parameters. With art, limiting thinking to rules will prevent diversity. The good thing about this is that science needs to be understood; art doesn't.

The beauty in both art and science are different yet of equal value. Doug's beautiful math is as intriguing as any painting or sculpture. For him, rules are imperative.

Beauty in art is at the whim of the public. If they need rules to appreciate it, so be it.
I'd much prefer my hormones to control me.
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Old September 19th, 2015, 12:38 AM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jerome Marot View Post
I am not sure what this thread is talking about, given that more than half the links cited for discussion are dead. The only links which are still live are the two scientific papers discussing people's preference for rectangles (I am not making this up!). Surprise, surprise, they found that even so many people like rectangles, some don't.
Jerome,

I will try to hunt down the references, but in the meanwhile, this link works




and to me is an important opening to the discussion. However, I am not sure how much his study of rectangle popularity is relevant to art appreciation.


Asher
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Old September 19th, 2015, 01:41 AM
Tom dinning Tom dinning is offline
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Don't you love that bit.
"Somewhere there must be something structural, formal, compositional ...."
I bet he believes in a god as well.
Why do such people need to have a reason.
Think of it like sex. Some days you don't need a reason; just lay back and enjoy it. The last thing you want is a shrink peering over your shoulder reminding you there might be a reason for it all. When that little tingle of enjoyment comes at the end that should be reason enough.
The same goes for art.
I can't say the same about maths. Help me out here Doug.
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Old September 19th, 2015, 01:57 AM
Wolfgang Plattner Wolfgang Plattner is offline
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Hm

... breaking rules or ignoring rules?

The main reason for rules may be the desire of reproducing things in a way they last and rest useful and/or reproducable, at least that's the reason why I think our "godfathers of rules" in the old Greek or Egyptian cultures recognized them and made them the base for their statues and temples.

Ingoring rules may be funny at the moment but it's a blind alley.
Breaking rules presumes that I bother about them, that I study them and get to know about them, and that's the base for something new, that may point to a new way with open end ...
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Old September 19th, 2015, 02:17 AM
Jerome Marot Jerome Marot is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Asher Kelman View Post
I will try to hunt down the references, but in the meanwhile, this link works

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/medical-educati...-Beauty-V2.jpg

and to me is an important opening to the discussion. However, I am not sure how much his study of rectangle popularity is relevant to art appreciation.
The image shows apples. I am not sure how much rectangular apples are...

We have had more interesting discussions about compositions. Probably the most complete is Reading the reading by Mark Hampton, even if it suffers since Mark decided to remove all his pictures. Another one is Michael A. Smith and Paula Chamlee, Guest Artist Photographers. I think that one picture from that last thread is particularly relevant to the subject of composition:



Paul Chamlee: Grindivík, Iceland, 2004

No rectangle, no apple, only an abstract subject. Yet the composition mysteriously work, if you remove any of the elements, the picture is not so good (my apologies to Tom for discussing the removal of elements). Now, I am expecting a clear set of rules, based on rectangles and formulas, to construct this kind of picture on a regular basis.
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Old September 19th, 2015, 11:29 AM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jerome Marot View Post
The image shows apples. I am not sure how much rectangular apples are...

We have had more interesting discussions about compositions. Probably the most complete is Reading the reading by Mark Hampton, even if it suffers since Mark decided to remove all his pictures. Another one is Michael A. Smith and Paula Chamlee, Guest Artist Photographers. I think that one picture from that last thread is particularly relevant to the subject of composition:



Paul Chamlee: Grindivík, Iceland, 2004

No rectangle, no apple, only an abstract subject. Yet the composition mysteriously work, if you remove any of the elements, the picture is not so good (my apologies to Tom for discussing the removal of elements). Now, I am expecting a clear set of rules, based on rectangles and formulas, to construct this kind of picture on a regular basis.
Jerome,

I am particularly pleased that at least one other person here recognizes the balance and beauty in the apparent haphazard disorder of Paula Chamlee's photograph above. Michael and Paula were a little taken back that there was limited response to their contributions. I now feel, because of your current remarks, that their work and ideas did indeed resonate with us, even though we didn't respond as much as we could have at the time.

....furthermore, your analysis above is helpful beyond just referencing Paula's picture, as your questioning of simplistic explanations is necessary to allow us to begin to unravel the fabric of what might constitute beauty or good composition in art.

Asher
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Old September 19th, 2015, 12:17 PM
Jerome Marot Jerome Marot is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Asher Kelman View Post
I am particularly pleased that at least one other person here recognizes the balance and beauty in the apparent haphazard disorder of Paula Chamlee's photograph above. Michael and Paula were a little taken back that there was limited response to their contributions. I now feel, because of your current remarks, that their work and ideas did indeed resonate with us, even though we didn't respond as much as we could have at the time.
I had a look at that thread again. Quite frankly, I find that the contributions to that particular thread were excellent. If Michael and Paula were expecting more, their expectations were unreasonable.


Quote:
....furthermore, your analysis above is helpful beyond just referencing Paula's picture, as your questioning of simplistic explanations is necessary to allow us to begin to unravel the fabric of what might constitute beauty or good composition in art.
Interestingly, even if we do not have a real satisfying theory on composition, we do have workable theories on why we find other things beautiful. For example, colour harmony works reasonably well as a theory. I think I posted something about it in a thread that was quickly overwhelmed by the technicalities of look-up tables.

On non-photographic but abstract subjects, musicians have quite good frameworks about harmony and counterpoint.
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Old September 19th, 2015, 01:22 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jerome Marot View Post
I had a look at that thread again. Quite frankly, I find that the contributions to that particular thread were excellent. If Michael and Paula were expecting more, their expectations were unreasonable.




Interestingly, even if we do not have a real satisfying theory on composition, we do have workable theories on why we find other things beautiful. For example, colour harmony works reasonably well as a theory. I think I posted something about it in a thread that was quickly overwhelmed by the technicalities of look-up tables.

On non-photographic but abstract subjects, musicians have quite good frameworks about harmony and counterpoint.
I will try to separate the over- technical from the great ideas and concepts on color appreciation that are easier to follow when I write an article or two.

My apologies for getting over technical. I also tried to show that such technical detail is not often needed with today's cameras and common sense use of a grey card.

From that point on, being able to use map to pleasing combinations of colors is an enjoyable pastime!

Asher
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Old September 19th, 2015, 01:43 PM
Doug Kerr Doug Kerr is offline
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Hi, Asher,

Quote:
Originally Posted by Asher Kelman View Post
I will try to separate the over- technical from the great ideas and concepts on color appreciation that are easier to follow when I write an article or two.
"Over-technical"?

What a repugnant notion.

Perhaps you mean to speak of separating the "technical", or the "very technical", from the other aspects of the topic.

Quote:
My apologies for getting over technical.
What was "over technical? Why, I didn't even see any color transform matrix equations, or discussions of the Purkinje shift, or anything.

Best regards,

Doug
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Old September 19th, 2015, 01:58 PM
Jerome Marot Jerome Marot is offline
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Colour theory is a "technique" as well...

There is nothing wrong in discussing look up tables or in discussing how to correct metamerism for accurate colour reproduction under different illuminants. But I wanted to point out that some photographers to not always seek accurate colour reproduction and, in that case, the colours they chose for the end pictures are not selected randomly.
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Old September 19th, 2015, 02:19 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jerome Marot View Post
.............and, in that case, the colours they chose for the end pictures are not selected randomly.

Jerome,

Do you mean that
  • "Whether they realize it or not, their selections are not "random" but actually based on innate preferences for certain combinations of colors in human perception of what is pleasing to the eye""

  • "The colors they choose are likely to be more pleasing if they select colors from the various color wheels you have shown us" in the thread here, post #24.?

  • or perhaps both!

Asher
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Old September 19th, 2015, 02:46 PM
Jerome Marot Jerome Marot is offline
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Both, since the colour wheels formalise innate preferences for certain combinations of colours.
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  #26  
Old September 19th, 2015, 06:03 PM
Tom dinning Tom dinning is offline
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Sundays contribution.

If you want beautiful photos, take photos of beautiful things.

When in doubt, obfuscate.

When self assured, obfuscate even more.

If you are ugly, fat, old and/ or self-conscious, stand behind the camera.

If you like it, enjoy it it. If you don't like it, leave it be.
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Old September 19th, 2015, 06:36 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom dinning View Post

If you want beautiful photos, take photos of beautiful things.....
This is another aphorism that while on first glance seems self-evident, it's actually too simplistic, as it excludes a lot of potentially beautiful pictures!


Look again at post # 26 above by Jerome and these.

Asher
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  #28  
Old September 20th, 2015, 04:43 AM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Still, Jerome, I believe that fundamental to both our perception of "good composition" and "beauty" there are fixed elements in neural mechanisms from which the mind builds dynamic "constructs" such as the complex emotions/experiences in "love", "loyalty", "beauty" and yes, even "good composition". None of these multi-component perceptions by humans, (found across disparate cultures), are describable as perceptions with sharp boundaries from other related experiences, rather these complex feelings are made themselves of dynamic zones of reference to many primary innate and learned responses and memories, each of which enriches and colors the current evoked experience when seeing something evoking such a response.

While I do not expect, nor need rules from understanding such complex perceptions described above, I would enjoy the insight that would further facilitate my awareness of the process in my appreciation of art and my own efforts.

I do think that some parameters of an image can be understood and accessed without making a set of cookie cutter rules resulting "sameness" and the equivalent of elevator music.

Asher
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  #29  
Old September 20th, 2015, 05:26 AM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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I appreciate this answer very much.

Thank you Tom!
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  #30  
Old September 20th, 2015, 06:03 AM
fahim mohammed fahim mohammed is offline
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I am not well versed in design theory. I can merely ( that too not clearly ) describe what and how I might experience an image. Forget the message for the time being.

Forget color( colour ) too.

It appears to me to be ' silly ' to say that rules of composition are hogwash, don't matter, or that
Thousands of years of analysis of visual and cerebral perceptional dynamics have been in vain.

I will just give a simple example or two and shut up.

Diagonal lines give me a different ' feel' than just straight lines. Some lines lead me to another point.
I am visually and mentally attracted in different ways as to the composition of light, dark and shadows.

It is ' silly ' of me but the ' weighting ', the mass, the center ( centre ) of gravity in an image does have an impact on me. And for some ' sillier' than me.

But that is to be expected. These ' silly ' people are in august company here.
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