Wednesday, April 23, 2014

PhotoProject :: Blurring the Edges

Unfortunately I opened a can of worms in the comments thread on this weeks thepatch theme, when I discussed the compositional desire not to have strong lines running out to the edges of an image. Many artist forced to learn about classic approaches to composition would try to stop such lines leading the viewers eye to the edge (and potentially onto something else). They might stop it short of the edge have another intersecting line/curve to carry the eye back into the picture. They might soften the line. or just imply it is still there. The may diffuse of darken the edges. The””Circle of Light” was a classic Walt Disney device in his animations where many scenes just has a simple wash around the edges, like a vignette, cutting contrast and diffusing the background but leaving stronger light and detail around the subjects. Understanding how lines help and inhibit the viewer’s eye flow is a really big topic and I will only cover a tiny part of the issues here. For landscape work here is a goof place to start if you want to find out more.

But rules are meant to be broken right. Below are a couple examples that break this “rule” and do it with style.

Turners Rain.Steam & Speed was a somewhat of an avant-guard over the top image at the time. Its use of colour and strong atmospheric effects that predate the French impressionist but in some ways his attempts to represent pure light leads the way for them to follow. In any event turner has an intuitive sense of good composition, for example the train engine is located at the golden mean point (both horizontally vertically the ratio of distance along that axis is 1: 1.6 that divine proportion. I don’t think he used callipers, I think he just knew where to position it. It is worth clicking on this thumbnail to see the enlarged image. Can you see the hare trying to get away from the train?


Ken Duncan's peaceful waters image breaks a few rules, eg strong lines and symmetrical placement but it is also truly wonderful. The eye is very definitely drawn in by the converging lines and the bollards on the end of the wharf and rocky outcrop with a silhouetted tree give plenty for an exploring eye to investigate but it is the colours that gives the real wow factor. It has become the “inspiration” for many many similar images. It is worth clicking on the image and find out just how it came about.

But Lines have to Hit the Edge?

Ok having seen the rules being broken how might they be acknowledge and followed in photography because there are pretty much always lines that will extend out of the photo (like the horizon cutting across any landscape photo for example). The Photographer at the time of taking the picture does have a some control of how strong lines appear in the photo, for example he/she can change their point of view or tilt the camera. For example lines that converged into the image (as in both these examples above) tend to draw the eye in. If the lines converge towards the edge your eye could be draw out of the picture. Particularly if they exit close to the corners. Thus best avoided. Also your eye or more particularly your brain is drawn to strong contrast, because it assumes that will be an edge. So the point on a line with the strongest contrast will be what draws the viewers eye. This is where the idea of ”lost and found” lines comes in very handy. Your brain actually likes to entertain itself with little puzzles and one it loves is to project where objects and edges are. So it can figure out where a line might run and if it gets some confirmation of where this is, it may not bother looking further, This is a perfect way to slow the viewer’s eye down and back into the centers of interest in your image.

Blurring the Lines!

So the theory here is to reduce the contrast and blur strong lines before they hit the edge. Its just like a vignette only instead of changing the tone the image is blurred and/or dulled. Its really a simple idea and I think can work well on the appropriate occasions..
blurring the lines at the edge in google+
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