One of the most amazing things I have found dealing with visual communication are the gestalt factors. There is no doubt about it.
I use these factors every time I am out taking pictures. Or rather they engage themselves in the process. All by themselves.
I don’t use much energy on them since they have, long ago, settled as part of my second nature. They are part of the invisible rucksack that I always carry along when taking pictures.
Gestalt factors can easily become part of your rucksack too, but first you need to know a little about what they are and how they work. That is what this section is all about.
I am sure that you know many of the factors already since some are pretty common. Sometimes, however, is helps to work things over in your mind yet another time to make sure that things are there to support you when you need them. You will want them in your rucksack too. I am sure.
Over the next weeks I will describe these factors. I will make them useful for street photography and for this toolbox. The section will consist of some 10 different posts. Each dealing with a specific gestalt factor. This post is the intro to the section.
Why are the gestalt factors so important? It has to do with that very human condition that is called making things easy on yourself.
When a viewer reads an image he/she tends to do that with as little effort as possible. That is the mechanism that makes him/her cope with a world of constant information overload. All of us make perceptual shortcuts when we look at, or read, pictures. Photographs included.
As a reader of images this goes all by itself. As photographers it is a good idea to tune in on the way people read images. To understand the shortcuts and to use them in building photographs.
Gestalt factors overrule what is actually shown in the photograph and tell the mind “ok” I am going to read this photograph this and this way. You as a photographer are disconnected from the party. That is, unless you know a little about how human perception works.
There are good words for this process. When you read an image you decode it. When you make a photograph you code it.
There are much more to coding and decoding than gestalt factors, but at least they are part of the complex.
There are two important things that you need to know. Knowledge of gestalt factors comes with a double benefit. Knowledge always does.
The first benefit of knowing gestalt factors is that you are in a position TO USE them in your street photography. The second benefit is that you are allowed NOT TO USE them. Knowing these, and other tools, your artistic freedom will increase.
Now, let us take a brief glance are Summer Song, the photograph that accompanies this first post in the gestalt section. What do you see in it at first glance?
I am pretty sure that the first thing you noticed was not that there are 13 windows in the house at the back of the image, and that 4 of those are hardly visible or not windows at all. I am also pretty sure that you cannot give me the number of grass straws in the lawn in the front part of the picture. I am also pretty sure that you would not say that the picture consists of 8 different people doing different things under open air.
You are most likely to say that in this shot you see 4 groups of people. Pairs of two.
If my anticipation is correct you have made it easy on yourself by ordering and grouping the information in the photograph. The decoding is based on closeness and similarity, which are two of the gestalt factors we are going to deal with in later posts.
This is what gestalt factors do: based on visual patterns they order and prioritize things for you. They shortcut myriads of information into understandable wholes that you grasp immediately. Saves both time and energy.
By knowing gestalt factors you can use them in your photography. You don’t have to, but you can.
Knowledge of gestalt factors will, with very little effort, become a part of your rucksack. I find working with gestalt factors very exiting. I think you might too.
Good luck with it.
Additional posts in this section: gestalt factor introduction; gestalt factor proximity; gestalt factor similarity; gestalt factor closure; gestalt factor direction; gestalt factor good curve; gestalt factor objective set; gestalt factor habit or experience; gestalt factor Prägnanz.