Fairly Foolproof Field Forces

When I place my finger on the trigger and snap a picture, what is going through my head? Usually not much, because I am a rather inexperienced photographer. But, Zettl argues that there are a lot of decisions to be made, even if some happen somewhat subconsciously. 

Zettl’s six types of major field forces used to create the space we see in an image: main directions, magnetism of the frame and attraction of mass, asymmetry of the frame, figure and ground, psychological closure, and vectors.

1.    Main Directions: Horizontal vs. Vertical.

Horizontal has a sense of safety or stability, while vertical is more bold and contemporary. Horizontal images are more common because we tend want to stick to what is comfortable or safe in our society. But, by the simple tilt of a camera, the photographer can change everything. A titled image destabilizes the scene, causing the viewer to seek a stable reference–something known, comfortable.

2.    Magnetism of the Frame

The magnetism refers to the positioning of the frame that draws our eyes to itself. The viewers have to decide where to look, so magnetism is what directs that. If there is one single object in the middle of the frame, we focus our eyes there, but if there is nothing in the middle and something in the upper right corner, we would be drawn there.

3.    Asymmetry of the Frame

Zettl gives us, as photographers, a hint here: humans tend to focus on the right side of images. So, if I am the photographer, where am I going to put my main message? You guessed it! The right side. Now that does not mean every picture we capture should have the subject solely on the right, with blank space on the left. Here is an example of this concept in action:

The left side of the image is not blank, but the viewer tends to focus on the right, or the player with the ball.

4.    Figure and Ground

This refers to the relationship of the figure (any object that is less stable than the ground) and the ground. The example he uses in the reading helped me understand this, so I recreated it in photoshop for you.

Mercedes Logo

In the image on the left, the ground is the dirt road the car is driving on. But, when I cropped the image on the right, the ground became the hood of the car.

5.    Physiological Closure

This is how our brains try to stabilize and simplify the unstable and complicated environment we see. We try to fill in gaps in our minds where information is missing to create a full image. Gestalt is the term he uses to describe how our brains create patterns and images that have the power to take away from one single image.

6.    Vectors

Vectors are responsible for moving our eyes from one place to the next within the image. There are different types of vectors: graphic, index, or motion that lead the viewer in one or more directions. There are also continuing, converging, or diverging vectors, that define how vectors react with one another inside the image.

As I have been working on my slideshow, I have found myself frustrated but also in awe of the beauty of photography. The ability to capture real people in real moments and tell a story–without words–is a beautiful thing. Although I have already taken all my photographs, these 6 types of field forces will make me think twice next time I am capturing an image.

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