Gestalt Theory.



My initial reaction to this subject was one of horror.  ‘The Photographer’s Eye’ opened the topic with a seven-line sentence that I have read many times over and I still non-the wiser for the reading.

I was highly relieved when I realised that the Gestalt theory of perception is just an analysis of something that we do all the time naturally to enable us make sense and give order to whatever it is was are viewing around us.

The history isn’t important to comment on here other then the word is German and has no direct translation. Roughly, it means ‘to place’ or ‘to put together’.

Michael Freeman explains that there are 7 laws of perceptual organization.


-We group elements taking into account how close they are to each other and this is the law of proximity.

– In the ‘Law of Similarity’, elements are also grouped by form or content.

-There is also the ‘Law of Closure’ and the ‘Kanisza Triangle’ is a good example.

-The mind also looks for explanation in simplicity in lines, curves and shape.  Looking for symmetry and balance also is also part of the ‘Law of Simplicity’

-Grouped elements are assumed to move together and behave as one and this is known as the ‘Law of Common Fate’

-‘Law of Good Continuation’ means that our eye carries on beyond a line or shapes ending point.

-‘Law of Segregation’ means to make a subject to stand out from the background.




Now, the fact I have resorted to a large amount of paraphrasing is a sure sign that I need time to digest and look at plenty of images to find examples .  I also realise that I am a very visual person and without solid examples of anything in picture form I am lost at sea.

I think, for now, I am content that I am aware that this concept exists. Also that ‘Gestalt’ is a huge academic subject that I can’t hope to fully digest, understand and apply overnight. I am already engaging with the subject on a subconscious level because everybody does! I plan to try and reflect on my application of ‘Gestalt’ within the assignment images and look for digestible further reading in the meantime.


I will add to this research sometime in the future.

Project research and reflection: Horizontal, Vertical, Curved and Diagonal.

This project didn’t cause the same angst as the first project in this module as I am somewhat fascinated by ‘real’ lines and the way lines play out in land and city. Of course making the best use of them within a photograph is quite another thing.

 Having not done this research first, the exercises were somewhat dry  but what I did find led to some interesting conclusions.  I had never noticed before that absolute verticals in a rural setting are very difficult to come by (as I noted underneath the relevant exercise). For the exercise in horizontals I expressed my continued wrestle with horizontals in my local environment that cut off leading flow of landscapes in the form of Devon banked hedges.  Interestingly, there are few Mid-Devon landscape images that I have ever come across and I have often looked for inspiration on how to tackle this locality.  The other noticeable difference in the city/ rural, contrasts is that where the countryside lacks so many verticals, the city lacks so many curves.  I have long recognised the power of diagonals in leading the eye and providing the extra dimension of perspective but spent time recognising as many sources of them as I could.

 Again I have done some reading of Michael Freeman’s ‘The Photographer’s Eye’ and from there I have studied a few iconic images. To summarise and paraphrase:

 –       Horizontals establish a location, a static feature and a sense of dynamic direction and movement along their length. They also symbolise stability, weight, calm and restfulness (Freeman,2007:72)

–       Verticals are generally suited to a portrait frame. A vertical needs a horizontal base to support and create equilibrium. Used properly in a composition it can create a sense of strength and stability. A vertical needs to be carefully aligned. (Freeman,2007:74)

–       Diagonals are free from alignment and of all the lines verticals provide the most dynamism. They create unresolved tension, as there is no stability of a horizontal or vertical. (Freeman,2007:78)

–       Curves provide a sense of flow and often speed. They don’t interact well with lines. They are useful in providing a gentle lead into an image. (Freeman,2007:80)


 In the exercises I noticed that all lines have to coexist to some degree and the art is in how to frame them to coexist as harmoniously as possible or separate them for challenging / abstract pieces.

 For research and preparation for my assignment images, that will require us to visit all these themes, I had a look as some revered images and how the lines were used as I wanted to see how my observations and new knowledge worked within the frame of them. I will only be talking about lines though and not other aspects of creative decisions.

 Andreas Gursky: I have mentioned him in an earlier post and how could I talk   about lines without mentioning Gursky.  ‘Rheine 11’ is a classic example of horizontal work. Lines of the river, grass and the path are unhindered across the frame and provide tension and stability.  As Michael Freeman suggests the overall feel is a restful one.

  In the images ‘Centre Georges Pompidou’, Gursky marries all types of straight lines in a rhythmic and balanced way. He manages to punctuate the scene successfully, albeit subtly, with two people who are opposite each other, leaning over a table – thus providing a curve that is mirrored on both sides of the frame. The tension is provided vertically in the table legs, horizontally in the tables and ceiling. Also the ceiling supports are revealed as diagonals by means of perspective thus adding a third tension/ dimension and, arguably, this might be one case where a diagonal might be resolved in tension via geometric design. (My own observations)


Images viewed on  (Accessed: 20/10/2013).  No text quoted or paraphrased from the site.


Alexander Rodchenko:  This photographer was suggested by my tutor for me to study as part of Assignment 1 feedback.  My tutor must have chuckled knowing that this work might send my head into a spin.  If that was the case then he was right.  Apart from a few geometrically stable images where the obligatory desired lines are present in a resolved and comfortable view, the rest of them caused me something near distress where I felt the need to turn my laptop at a variety of angles to try and stabilize the image. My eyes were continually trying to rectify the deliberate challenge that the images presented. The image entitled ‘Steps’ was nearly settled to my eye and would have been had the top of the frame been cropped. By letting the diagonals run into shadow and then being met with an intermittent diagonal running in a different direction, the image was left far from resolved in my opinion.


The next image I am going to talk about will probably cause me nightmares tonight! Entitled ‘The Girl with a Leica’. “WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?” was my immediate exasperated thought with a compelling need to turn the screen to stop the seated lady sliding down the bench and out of the frame.  However, when I gradually turned the image back around to the intended viewing position I could see that the image worked due to the diagonals travelling and converging towards the top of the frame.  Triangles had formed that bisected the frame across the diagonal frame corners and then I noticed that the clever use of the cast shadow through the frame, that contrasted in an opposing diagonal direction creating something more of balancing tension. This image is a clever demonstration of how the lackof horizontals cause instability and challenges to the viewer.


Images viewed on:

(Accessed:21/10/2013) No text quoted or paraphrased from the site.


ABBAS:  Magnum photo’s was also recommended as a good source of imagery by my tutor.  Having now visited the site I know I am going to be spending quite some time there.  Having looked mostly at lines in the above text I wanted to look at curves here.  Abbas appears to be a documentary photographer and my alter ego is an international documentary photographer.  His Northern Ireland ‘troubles’ portfolio immediately gripped me.  The first image that caught my eye was an unnamed image. A building is on fire and a fire fighter is extinguishing the flames.  The hoses lead me into the frame from the bottom curving and weaving across each other to the firefighter in the middle ground. The water then carries the eye in the continuation of curve across the frame. Whilst my eye is travelling across the frame I noticed the incredible luck/ timing of the front of the building collapsing in the background. The curve of the background collapse meets the rising curve of the water. The curves of ground events are mirrored in the rounded plumes of smoke in the sky.  The image is energetic and the curves go a long way to enhance that feeling.


Image viewed on:

(Accessed:21/10/2013) No text quoted or paraphrased from the site.

Project: Points and multiple points. Research of examples and also considerations.


I seem to have found a methodical way in which to start research. Not having studied academically before I had to spend some time considering where to start and how to utilise past skills in the undertaking of research.  

My experiences in the past is criminal investigation so I apologise if this comes across a little clinical in presentation and reading. However, as in everything, approaches evolve.  The important thing is that I start.  

So I start at the beginning.

The first project in ‘Elements Of Design’ look at ‘a single point in a frame’.  We touched a little on this in the ‘The Frame’. I was struggling to see the point of looking at this and that probably stemmed from ‘trying too hard’ as a brand new student.

I have looked at many images now that use point photography and can now see how single point photography can be not only aesthetically pleasing but also the starting block for furthering composition with multiple points.


Exercise 1 invited us to look at the graphic positioning and consider our own photographs(this is logged under the category ‘The Art of Photography – `exercises’).   Michael Freeman (Ilex,2007) demonstrates in diagrams where placement zones are:


Off centre. 

Slightly off centre.  

He goes on to say that positioning within the centre of a frame might be logical but is rarely pleasing.


. At this point I stumbled across Fay Godwin’s website and found that many of her images fly in the face of this advice.  In particular one image entitled ‘Single Stone, Ring of Bangor, Orkney’.  This image can be found on her website under this link… (accessed 19/10/2013)

So why does she did she chose a dead central placement of a neolithic stone in this image and others?  It was hard to say but I am aware that there are other aspects of design and composition to consider further along the line. I was sure it would become more apparent on how she arrived at her decision.

For me, at that point in time though, the feel of the image along side the consideration of placement is that the stone is presented at bleak, isolated and ominous.  

I later found this same image in a book I had forgotten about ‘What Makes Great Photography 80 Masterpieces Explained’ .  The author reinforces some of what I read into the image but also adds, “Godwin makes the stone the absolute centre of the image, dwarfing the landscape that surrounds it.  However, she makes no attempt to monumentalise it: it is viewed with interest rather then with awe.  The light is sharp, which illuminates the detail of the stone; set against the cloudy sky, it has an ominous presence.” (Williams, 2012:185).

At this point I went back to ‘The Photographer’s Eye’ and revisited an earlier section of the book where he explains that as soon as we allow free space around a subject it becomes an issue.  It may be an obvious choice to place a subject in the middle of the frame especially if there are no other compelling elements but doing this is too predictable. But to position a subject  elsewhere in a frame needs a reason.  He also suggests that setting a subject off centre is often desirable to keep a relationship with the subject and the background. (Freeman,2007:24)

So, given this reasoning I am wondering if Fay Godwin’s image is composed as it is because the background is playing second fiddle to this neolithic stone. Also because it is the dominant feature and that dominance she wanted to hold true? 

Perhaps as I venture through The Art of Photography and read further into psychology of images, i will begin to form a stronger opinion.


The next part of the project asked us to consider multiple points. I struggled with this exercise immensely and it shows too in the produced images from the subsequent exercise. Having reflected on this there are several reasons…..

Firstly, having looked back in my photography library I have never really got past single point photography. Secondly, I tend to adopt geometric design in more abstract work. Thirdly, the example given didn’t speak to me on any level and only now that the the module has progressed do I understand the point being made. Last of all asking us to take the photograph from the POV directly above also seemed to not help in connecting with the exercise and I couldn’t find further examples at the time.

Anyway, since then, I have been away working through some more exercises and came back to look at multiple exercise with fresh eyes. First I re-read the notes and re visited ‘The Photographer’s Eye’. By the very act of adding a second point the simplicity is lost. The eye is made to move around the frame and find implied lines and a dynamic tension occurs(Freeman,2007:70). I can’t have digested that sentence on the first read and hence the difficulty was in the lack of understanding before attempting the exercise which, in itself, isn’t going to be as easy as first imagined. As I looked at the example in The Photographer’s eye I became aware that in my not understanding the issues of relationship between points within a compositions, I was always destined to stagnate in creativity.

Henry Hargreaves, a New Zealand based photographer, has an example of multiple points where flow can be seen between multiple points in obvious and not so obvious ways. I wish I had found his image ‘local identity’ before trying to take on the multiple point exercise. (accessed 20/10/2013 and 05/11/2013)

Already, in this new understanding I am able to see how multiple points work. Hopefully, I can now avoid using single point and geometric compositions for the most part.

Another photographer I have found, that makes wonderful use of point photography in his wildlife and landscape work is David duChemin. On this link I was able to see beautiful examples of point placement and frame division within landscape. (accessed 20/10/2013)

This has been truly challenging exercise for me and one worth spending time thinking about.


William.V (2012), What Makes Great Photography 80 Masterpieces Explained, London: Applepress.

Freman.M(2007),The Photographer’s Eye, Lewes:Ilex.



Exercise: Implied lines.

Exercise: Implied lines.

For this first part of the leading line exercise we were asked to analyse 3 of our own images for implied lines. I selected 3 image that were pleasing to my eye in the hope I would discover why they were pleasing. I discovered elements to the image that I hadn’t been consciously aware of. For instance the fanning lead lines in the snail and the swan’s plumage. The strongest sense of implied lines is in the portrait of the potters where the viewers eye is drawn from the female, across to the male and then to the jug.

Exercise: Triangles – Still life.

Exercise: Triangles - Still life.

As required, I have produced two still life compositions demonstrating still life with apex at top and bottom. I have always found still life difficult but I am now beginning to see that this is because I had gaping gaps in knowledge with regards to some elements of design that we are addressing in this module. Again, I will be writing more thoroughly under the category of research and reflection. This link will be placed here in due course.

Triangles – Perspective with apex at the bottom of a frame.

Triangles - Perspective with apex at the bottom of a frame.

This caused me somewhat of a headache! Literally. It took a fair bit of thinking of how a triangle could be achieved by perspective with the apex at the bottom. I worked it out and then realised the best effect would be from the top of a building. NO CHANCE! So, please take my post as a high rise block!

Since this post I have realised that a long narrow ceiling would also create the same effect.