Monday, June 3, 2013

Using the Elements & Principles of Design for Effect (Image Making Series - Part 4)

The Bored Panda site has some cool stuff. I found this image by Matt Molloy there. Matt has taken the prosaic image of a sunset and re-visioned it. There are a collection of these sky-scapes at Bored Panda that are worth looking at. I mentioned in a prior post about finding your inner vision of everyday subjects... but how? It was suggested that this is accomplished by focusing on the elements of design. Engravers use line almost exclusively. When doing an engraving on metal (for example portraits on paper money) the engraver is must express tone, pattern, form and all the rest just using lines. This is an extreme example where all the elements of design are expressed using only one element, line.

I've seen in design school where students are forced for weeks to use only black and white (value) and pattern. Pattern without form tends to be flat and one dimensional, cartoonish. On top of that if you are a color person being forced to only work with gray values can be tedious. Nonetheless, the hope is through the assignments the student will discover and enter the realm of a flat world without color. May be boring, but you will walk away with design skills you didn't have.

Being forced to be creative using only one or two of the elements of design is challenging, and at times humiliating when your efforts are the worst in the class, or, enlightening when you see what others have done with a minimal set of tools. In this example by Alistair Boddy-Evens tone is built using only line, resulting in the beginnings of form.

 We all have our favorites within the elements of design. If you don't know which is yours, then that would be your first mission for discovery.

If you decompose Matt's image you will find the rule of thirds used for the macro part of the composition. Highlights should be on the subject and the subject should be located on one of the nodes of rule of thirds. In this case the highlight is the subject, the sun, which leads to the next point.

Now consider the principles and elements of design - the micro constitutes of composition. Repetition is a strong factor in the repeating pattern of clouds. The repetition forms a strong set of lines which all point to the subject via directional movement. Often line's main purpose is to lead the eye to the subject.  Center of interest is also evident albeit weak. The over-blown white spot (the sun) really isn't interesting. If this were an ad, and the product or message was placed at the sun's location, then the whole composition would be leading you to what the designer intended to be the purpose of the image. That is, to capture your attention and then lead you to the product or message which replaced the uninteresting area of the sun.

Harmony and color are obviously used well too, but you would expect that of a landscape. Nature is seldom without harmony and proper use of color. Contrast is a very strong factor both in color (cool versus warm) and in values. There is also the psychological contrast of the the stark sentinel-like powerline towers standing against the 'moving' sky.

You could start out to paint or otherwise design an image like this if the idea just popped into your head. Often however the process of discovering your inner image comes simply by playing with something that intrigues you, and sometimes just by happy accidents that you then push even further. I could explain the creation of this image as through it were the result of one such happy accident. It would occur when a photographer feels the need to do something with an image, to take it to the next level, and in this case to address a technical issue.

Matt's image, as most sunsets, presents high contrast and high dynamic range problems for photographers. Today's technology cannot expose for both bright and dark objects in one exposure. One technique is to take three images of a subject, exposing for highlights, average, and dark areas. Then through the magic of Photoshop combining all three images into a single correctly exposed image. What if when combining the images they ended up slightly misaligned? In the case of the sky moving, if your exposures were fifteen seconds apart the clouds would be in different locations, making perfect alignment of the whole impossible.

Matt's imagery is based on just that, the combination of many images of the sky as the clouds move. He might have seen that as a technical problem to correct, or instead see it as a happy accident. In the process of trying to create a properly exposed image, the misalignment was seen as potential, and when pushed further a whole new motif was discovered. If you are open to that discovery, and evaluation of that potential through the principles discussed, images are in a constant state of new potentiality.

The re-evaluation, re-visioning, is critical. Happy accidents can't be depended on, but you can hone your eye to see potential and polish it by further manipulation of the design elements, but how? Which ones? Well, how about fruit slices re-visioned.

In the top left image the slices are reduced to pattern. In the top right line is a dominate element. In the lower left the slices are back lite and translucent. This technique emphasizes value, and the image on the lower right show color contrast and directional moment. There are books dedicated to illustrating this type of experimental re-visioning. Jim Krause has a whole series of books focusing on visual play for a purpose, helping designers see things anew.

Each element of design can be tweaked and your response to that change is positive or negative. For example, color contrast or a whole hue shift throughout the image either brings the image closer to you or a sense that it feels off, resonates less with you. Changes in tonality could enhance a sense of line or directional movement, increasing a sense of dynamic movement. In the example of Matt's image, layers of images could be shifted further off alignment to enhance one of the elements of design, further abstracting the image, and making patterns that are unnatural, but nonetheless fascinating.

It is your inner image.
All the principles and elements discussed, and all the variations of each will only be tweaked by you in a particular way. It is an inner image because it is discovered by subtle changes in the image, one by one, each in its turn resonating with you or not. The inner image does not pop into your head full blown. It is discovered by patiently turning the dials of design until it comes into focus.

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