Archive for category Gestalt Factors

Bringing Things Together

The Silent Reader © Knut Skjærven

The Silent Reader © Knut Skjærven

I am going to bring things together.

I will cluster two different sites: Street Photographer’s Toolbox (The Toolbox) and The Europeans. That way I don’t have to do things twice. Nor do you.

The first site holds a lot a text. The second site holds only photographs. More than anything they should be considered as chapters in the same book. That is what they are.

One of the the themes in The Toolbox is how to use gestalt factors in making what we have called Itching Images.

Itching Images are photographs that in one way or another stands apart from mere street documentation. They are the proper street photographs as we define it in this context. When you look on photographs from old masters you will see Itching Images all over. Being itchy is one of the hallmarks of street photography.

Time has now come to see how this works in practise. How are gestalt factors used in real photography? I am going to suggest how the gestalt factors are used in a number of images. Being well aware that the images used here for illustrative purposes bear no comparison with masterworks of the past.

Here are a few things you need to know:

1. Street photography, or photography in general, is no strict science so what are suggested here are suggestions only.

2. Statements made about a photograph are never right or wrong. They could, however, be more or less reasonable and well argued.

3. Many more things could, and should, be suggested about the same photograph. Here we deal with one, or few, dimensions only.

4. Not all photographs in The Europeans are categorised in gestalt terms. Nor should they be.

5. More photos will be tagged with along the way.

6. This cluster is particularly made for those attending The Workshop(s), who are presently working on a task along these lines.

Here is what you could do:

Selected photographs in The Europeans have been tagged with 1 or few of 7 gestalt factors. You have to open The Europeans, find the CATEGORIES in the blogroll at the left side and open the drop down menu to see how it is structured.

CATEGORIES contains two sets of information: a) the location where the shot is taken, and as of now b) the gestalt factor that it suggested to support it. Each photo has been marked with up to 3 factors. When you follow a particular tag it might look like this.

Please remember: Moving from lines and dots in the original gestalt research, which by the way is about 100 years old, is definitely a jump. So flexibility and interpretation are needed. Very much so. It is all a question of executing common sense and good reason.

Here is an example: The photograph above has been marhed with two tags. Besides its location tags, that is.

The tags are The Factor of Similarity  referring to the fact that there are 3 people in the shot. One real person and two others in the pictures on the wall. Here clustered in one photograph.

The other tag is The Factor of Common Fate, indicating that literally the three people have a certain fate in common. That common fate could be described as aloneness, or being in a solitary situation. Other words could be used for it, I am sure.

Could other gestalt factors have been tagged as well? Yes they could. But these two seem to be the most obvious.

If you want to see other pictures tagged with the same, or other categories, just go ahead and press the tags. You find tags beneath each photo in The Europeans. So far only a few are tagged with gestalt factors. More will come, but all photos will not be tagged this way.

May I suggest the following? Start tagging you own best images. If nothing else then only in your head. Start looking at the works of the masters of street photography. See how they made Itching Images by using gestalt factors instinctively. Not all of the time, but definitely some of the time.

Good luck with it.

© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved. Text and photo.

Copenhagen April 30, 2013.


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The Toolbox As Gestalt Factor

© Knut Skjærven

© Knut Skjærven

© Knut Skjærven

© Knut Skjærven

Yes, it is a good morning.

I just solved a problem that has puzzled me for a very long time. Or someone solved it for me.

Preparing the work slides for the first workshop in June, I had met this challenge:

How could it be that gestalt factors, normally considered innate ideas governing the reading, and the possible making, of street photographs, suddenly could pop up with a factor based on past experience or habit?  I could not get that to fit.

I needed to go back to where Max Wertheimer explains this. He sais: “Unlike the other principles with which we have been dealing, it is characteristic of this one that the contents A, B and C are assumed to be independent of the constellation in which they appear. Their arrangement is on principle determined merely by extrinsic circumstances (e.g. drill).”

He continues: “Often arbitrary material can be arranged in arbitrary form and,  after a sufficient drill, made habitual.”

This was just amazing. All became clear.

I don’t think for a minute that a toolbox ever can be an innate idea automatically passed on from generation to generation, but I do think that this toolbox, as any other toolbox in any field or craft, can be internalised to such an extend that the tools in there execute automatically as a spine competence.

Is that form of learning not what we all strive for? Being competent at something and executing what we are good at with the least of efforts?

I think it is.

Now I know that Street Photographer’s Toolbox can in fact become a gestalt factor for street photography. It is only a questions of drilling. And that is just what we do.

Feel free to engage in the task suggested in the first slide above. And then do the drilling. You have to find out how. Get into the habit.

© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved. Text and photo.

Copenhagen April 5, 2013.


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Gestalt Factors: Make It Easy On Yourself.

Summer Song. © Knut Skjærven.

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 factorsI 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.

Library Thing.

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Gestalt Factor Direction

For the moment I need to refer you to the post on Direction in barebones communication.

Good luck with it.


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Gestalt Factor Closure

For the moment I need to refer you to the post on Closure in barebones communication.

Good luck with it.


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Gestalt Factor Similarity

For the moment I need to refer you to the post on Similarity in barebones communication.

Good luck with it.

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Gestalt Factor Proximity

For the moment I need to refer you to the post on Proximity in barebones communication.

Good luck with it.


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Gestalt Factor Experience Or Habit

For the moment I need to refer you to the post on Experience or Habit in barebones communication.

Good luck with it.

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