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PERCEPTION AND IMAGING:
PHOTOGRAPHY AS A WAY OF SEEING

The posts in this collection are based on ideas in this upcoming fifth edition of the classic textbook written by the late Richard Zakia. After Dick passed on, I was honored that Focal Press asked me to write this new version of the book. My hope is that I can continue to convey, as Dick did so well, a love of the art and science of photography.

In Perception and Imaging you will find ideas rarely discussed in other books. For example, the new edition contains sections about the psychology of online photo-sharing, which is what we do here in Google+

The book is now in production and should be available in October of 2017. In the meanwhile, you'll find lots of previews about its contents right here in this collection.
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AGORAPHOBIC VIBRATIONS

If you place multiple layers of the same image on top of each other, but slightly askew, you get a variation of the perceptual phenomenon known as "visual vibration." Due to multiple edges so close to each other, the eye isn't exactly sure where to focus, resulting in the perception that the scene is vibrating. It's a technique often used in pop art and is another way to create the sensation of movement in a photograph.

Agoraphobia is the fear of leaving one's home, including a fear of open spaces and crowds. I thought the visual vibration effect might work well for creating that anxious feeling in this photo. I saturated the colors to add to the intensity of that feeling, although the result also looks a bit like candy!
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IT'S ALL ABOUT PERSPECTIVE

In linear perspective parallel lines that recede into the distance appear to get closer together and converge. To the human mind it appears as motion, an irresistible force carrying us into the distant vanishing point.

In this photo we have at least two other, more subliminal impressions of motion. First, we must be looking at this scene from inside a moving car, because what crazy person would be standing in the middle of this bridge? Secondly, there is the archetype of crossing a bridge that symbolically represents change and transition. You will see bridge symbols in many stories and movies, and it always means "moving to the other side."
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THE YIN/YANG OF CONTRA BODY MOVEMENT

In ballroom dancing "contra body movement" (CBM) refers to moving your upper body in one direction while moving your lower body in the opposite direction. It's the term that came to mind when I took this photo of two sisters swimming off the pier at Newport Beach, CA. Mimicking the Taoist yin/yang symbol where a black and white fish swim around each other, one sister turns one way while the other sister turns the other. There is feeling of opposition with connectedness, balanced tension, and a distinct circulating movement.

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GOING DEEP (into archetypes)

It's difficult to look at this image and NOT perceive motion. That's because it reveals an "archetype." An archetype is an idea that runs deep in the human psyche and powerfully shapes our experience of the world, often experiences involving symbolic actions.

One archetype is this idea of descending into the depths. We intuitively resonate with the excitement, mystery, and anxiety of exploring things that dwell far below the surface.

In this image the woman's body posture accentuates that feeling of diving downward. A counterintuitive element is her foot that seems to be attached to the top of the frame, as if she might be hanging there. That contrast between movement and constraint generates an interesting tension in the image.
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THERE'S JOY (and movement) IN REPETITION

When things repeat themselves in an image, we perceive movement. Think of a row of bottles where they get smaller, brighter, or more transparent as your eye moves down the line. That progression suggests shrinking, lighting up, or disappearing.

In this image the bottles seem to be going forward and backward, rising and falling, contracting and expanding, vanishing and materializing, and changing shape and color as if they were all part of some joyful circus act.

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GOIN’ UP TO THE SPIRIT IN THE SKY

I took this photo at Indian Canyons near Palm Springs, California. These palm trees are truly magnificent. They make it easy to understand why the native people considered this a sacred place. Water flows, in the middle of the desert, giving rise to trees that shoot towards the sun.

In this photo several factors join forces to convey the feeling of upward movement. First of all, memory tells us that trees always grow up, so the incredible size of these palms impresses on us the feeling of power in their vertical march. Their trunks provide a coordinated group of lines that all reach towards the crisp blue sky. While landscape style crops create side-to-side movement, tall crops convey vertical movement, which in this case reinforces the idea of up, up, and away.

I also added a dash of “zoom” blur. That effect can be created by racking the lens or, in this case, by applying a filter. But I decided to mask that blur on the tree in the center so that it looks relatively calm compared to its companions. Creating an element of stillness in an image with movement can enhance the feeling of both stillness and movement.

To top off all that energetic motion, I turned up the vibrance filter that enhances all colors (without causing any color to become overly saturated, although here I pushed the envelop). “Vibrance” means vigorous, energetic, lively. It’s a good term for increasing color saturation that can make a picture seem to “vibrate.”

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MOVING ON DOWN THE LINE

Because I recently posted the book cover for the upcoming edition of Perception and Imaging, I thought I might use its background image to illustrate some ideas about movement in a photograph.

Our eyes are always moving when we look at an image. Subconsciously, that stimulates the sensation of movement. LINES in particular encourage eye motion because our eyes intrinsically want to move along them. It’s a built-in biological habit, even in animals.

Curvy lines, as in this photo taken in the Japanese Pavilion of the LA County Museum of Art, are especially enticing to the eye because they oscillate, going this way and then that way, sometimes in ways that keep the mind guessing as to the forces behind it. The contrast between the curvy line of the railing and the more stable horizontal and vertical lines in the background make it even more eye-catching as something on the move. The silhouette of the person walking along that line adds to the effect.

I spent quite a bit of time looking through my archive for a photo to use as a cover for the book. When I spotted this one, I instantly said, “Aha! This is it!” For me its sensation of movement really captured the idea of PHOTOGRAPHY AS A WAY OF SEEING.

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ANIMATE

While thinking about what to post for this series on motion in a photograph, I suddenly thought of the word “animate.” I had a general idea about the definition of the word, and after looking it up I discovered that it means setting something into motion, giving it life, even providing it with “spirit.”

So by setting something into motion in a photograph we can make it come to life and activate its spirit. In this photograph, the inanimate vase is animated by giving it a spin of radial blur. It sure looks like it’s vibrating with an energetically lively spirit.

Radial blur also provides a sensation of movement around the edges while the middle seems stable, which can create the impression of a vortex.

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THE NOTION OF THE MOTION OF THE OCEAN

With this post I’m going to start a short series on motion in photography. The delightful paradox of a photograph is how it is a still image, yet it can also express movement. How does it do that?

This photo I took in the Pacific Palisades of California illustrates several ways we humans perceive motion. What grabs the eye immediately is the crashing of the waves against the rocks. That impression of “crashing” comes from the blur of the flowing water and its diagonal lines that suddenly bounce into the horizontal. The eye associates blur with movement and diagonal lines with the energy of up or down motion.

Memory and association also comes to play. From experience we know that the ocean is constantly moving, so we project that notion into what we see in this photo. Our memory also tells us that humans move. When we see the woman in the distance walking with the direction of the waves, it reinforces our perception of the ocean rushing to the shore.

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