Photography Lesson #4: Eyes vs. Emotion
Posted by Ryan at May 20th, 2010
This is going to be something of a psychology lesson, more than a photo lesson but the two go together very well. When in college, I took a psychology course that changed how I take pictures. Let me explain how this makes sense.
One day the class got into a discussion on emotional stressors. I was really curious about this and asked for more information on it after class. After class, my professor pulled out a bunch of flash cards and showed me each one for 2 seconds. I had to write down the first thing I saw, how I scanned it with my eyes and how I felt after looking at each card. After taking the test, she explained to me each card and what they meant. She said, “that there is no right or wrong answer to any of the cards, its just human emotion and instinct.” Then looking at the cards individually after, for a longer period of time, I noticed that there were things on the cards that I missed the first time seeing them and there is a lot more to each card then just black and white dots.
Now, how does this make a connection to photography? Out of that test I remember two cards that changed everything for me. I recreated them for you below. Time for you to take the test, look at them for 2 seconds each write down what the first thing you saw, how you scanned the card with your eyes and how you felt. Okay… READY GO!
Are done with that?… what were your results? Remember there is no right or wrong answer here. You can post your answers below. Now, to explain what each of these cards mean to photography.
In the first card, the heavy contrast in colors dictated what you saw first. Then scanning the card was tough because your eyes kept on going back to the first sight marked by your brain. Going back and forth probably made you feel uneasy, confused and/or frustrated. Why? I can’t tell you why… I didn’t study psychology in school. But, what you can get from this is that photographing a subject with high contrast and two separate visual points to create visual tension and trigger emotions. What I am trying to get here is that this card tells your mind what it needs to go to first. You can do this by making your subject the main focus by color, position and size. Also did you notice that the two dots are two different sizes?
The second card is different than the first, but this card is what I was trying to explain in my last lesson by how you scan the image and again dictate what you looked at first. Mostly all of you would notice that the dot in the top left corner is grey. How you scanned that image determines your emotion, each person is different so I can’t tell you exactly what you are going to feel. But, I can tell you that most of you started with the grey dot, moved to the bottom right, over to the bottom left then to the top right. This is the “natural scanning” movements of the eye. Now try to scan the dots different ways and see how you feel, it makes you feel different emotionally each way doesn’t it? So to make your photographs comfortable to viewers, keep this in mind. This is what I tried to do with the photo in Lesson 3. I’ve included it here so you can see what I mean. Most of you however, did not see the square in the top right corner.
This lesson is more about sight and emotion. The human mind is an interesting subject and digging into this more from a medical/psychological standpoint I would confuse you all. But, using this bit of information to my advantage in my photographs I am able to control, most of the time, what and how I want you to see my subjects. Who says a liberal arts education cannot help you with your profession?! Keep shooting all!
Here is a fun video on line of sight, make sure you pay attention!