Sunday, November 15, 2009

Gestalt - Similarity Principle

At the beginning of November, I wrote a bit about Gestalt Figure/Ground Articulation. If you haven't read that post, you might want to start there. :)

...How can we apply a basic understanding of perception to composition in photography?...

Let's take one principle at a time. The Similarity Principle states that we tend to see things with similar visual characteristics as belonging together. The image below illustrates the point...

Do you see a triangle in the image, above? Almost all of us do. And yet - there isn't one. The figure is entirely made up of circles and squares. Our minds do the rest. We see the individual elements as two separate parts - (remember "figure" and "ground" from my first post on gestalt?) - and that happens because of the similarity principle. The circles become one group, and the squares become a second group. Our brains process this collection of shapes as two distinct groups.

So, how does this apply to composition in photography? Take a look at the image below. Can you see the similarity principle at work?

The lines in the sandstone are similar to one another, so our eyes see them as part of a whole. Rather than individual elements, they become an interesting "ground" - a single element. And the leaf? It is dissimilar... and so it is not associated with the diagonal lines. It becomes "figure" because it is different.

How about something a bit more complex?

This shot is made up of thousands of individual elements. Each tiny flower, every blade of grass... countless trees in the distance... And yet, our brains are not overwhelmed. We process the image in groups made up of similar elements. The bright red flowers become a single group. The blues blend together - and though we distinguish between mountains, storm clouds, and hazy distance, the elements are perceived as one.

In this case, the image is broken into two parts - foreground and distance. And each of these two parts is broken down once more - into figure and ground. The sunbeams and the flowers are "figure", and the blue and green areas are "ground". The image is so much simpler when we break it down in this way!

Of course, most of us never take the time to consider this when we're looking at a photograph - and yet, our brains are constantly grouping and categorizing in this way.

More on gestalt principles another day! :)

Go to Gestalt - Proximity Principle

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Anonymous John said...

I'm enjoying this series, thanks. On a tangent, there's a fascinating book about Mike May, a man who was blind from early childhood through his 40s when his sight was restored - "Crashing Through" by Robert Kurson. It's amazing what Mike May struggled with when his sight came back, like the colorful patterns on the carpet of the doctor's waiting room. His brain had never trained itself to see in figure and ground, and it was easily overwhelmed. Also, he couldn't look at a painting on the wall and see it as a scene (a landscape or a vase and flowers). All he saw was a flat canvas with splotches and speckles of paint on it. Pretty interesting how the mind works.

November 16, 2009 at 3:05 PM  
Blogger Varina Patel said...

Wow - I'll have to look into his case. Sounds fascinating! Thanks for the info!

And I'm glad you are enjoying the series. I find it pretty interesting myself - which is why I'm writing about it. :)

All the best!

November 16, 2009 at 3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is certainly interesting for me to read this blog. Thanx for it. I like such topics and anything that is connected to them. I definitely want to read a bit more soon.

November 17, 2009 at 2:57 PM  
Blogger Varina Patel said...

We're hearing a lot of positive comments about this series. I'm so glad you are enjoying. And thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

Comments help us determine what people are finding interesting... so if you want more of it, say something! :)

Thanks so much!

November 17, 2009 at 3:10 PM  

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