Archive for the ‘Art of Photography’ Category

Grouping is a major element in Gestalt and can be influences the visual center of an image.

The different types of grouping are: proximity, similarity, continuity, closure and pragnanz. Each is discussed below.

This topic of Gestalt may seem overly simplistic, but it explains the actions of the unconscious mind during the act of viewing and it will become clear how it supports the principles of art and Elements of Design.

Proximity:-The principle of proximity or contiguity states that things which are closer together will be seen as belonging together. 

Looking below you will see how a grid of evenly spaced objects is nothing more than a grid of evenly spaced objects. It has balance and logic. Therefore, it is comfortable to the brains and the eyes can rest on it easily.


In the second image below, we still have an image of similar objects, though of the same shape. but brain considers them as belonging to different groups. Can you explain why? There is still a balance in the logic; it is just a bit more complex.


Proximity also works for dissimilar groups of objects, as shown below.


Proximity of shapes affects the visual relationships of shapes within a frame, but the illustration may be a bit too simplistic.

We now see 3 shapes of blue and 1 shape of grey.  When we consider the whole page, all shapes may appear as one single group. but when we consider them separately, the square is grouped with the 2 overlapping blue shapes. The single blue shape on the upper left is likely grouped with nothing.  This changes their reference and logic, so the brain may see them in either light.


Having too many things in close proximity can affect the  image negatively. This leads to incoherence, not allowing for the eyes to find a comfortable point of focus.

Grouping of this sort can be achieved with:

  • Tone / value
  • Color
  • Shape
  • Size
  • Or other physical attributes


  • Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam demonstrates the expressive power of proximity. The hands appear to be touching, although they are not when closely observed
  • Areas of use:Well, it is pretty easy.If want two, or more, objects to be conceived as a group, then place them close to each other. The human mind does the finishing work for you; grouping them. Remember the constellation of stars (big bear) , we name them as we perceive them as one group due to proximity in a sea of stars of similar shape and size

    For instance; if you have a dominant visual element, and a logo that you want perceived as being one unit, then place them close to each other. If you have a text, and you desire to link themes, then one of the ways you can do that, is by grouping the themes in the text (all others things being equal).

    Proximity is one of the principles often used in the field of web design because it allows for organized layouts to be created, with just enough white space to guarantee the desired visual perception.

    Can you identify the principle of proximity in the following images

    And you can play around with the proximity factor. Use it straight forward for straight grouping, or once you have established the group, then play around with it for different effects.

Some of my picture in which you can see the principle of proximity.

In the first picture although pitcher and sprinkler are two different things but just being close to each other, they are perceived as belonging to one group

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In the following picture, boy and girl sitting together appear to belong to one group


Using Gestalt principle of proximity, decide which would work as a smiley



And finally use of Gestalt principle in designing from Lexi


The principle of figure/ground is one of the most basic laws of perception,  used extensively to help us design our photographs. It refers to our ability to separate elements based upon contrast–that is, dark and light, black and white. This simple biological law explains our understanding of  abstract concepts such as subject/background and positive/negative space.


but  in the figure below, you can see him now, because there is sufficient contrast for your eye to perceive him against the background.This is a simple use of the principle of figure/ground.


In photography, we expand the concept to include color and content, not simply black and white values. In following picture, the white structure stands out against the background because of different colors. This separation may be achieved by throwing the background out of focus.



Similar to balancing negative and positive space in achieving a pleasing composition, we can also balance the two elements of figure and ground to help us create a successful image.Often our identification of the figure is helped by its position within the image. Most often, the figure is in the foreground as in above picutre.

Sometimes the figure/ground distinction is blurred on purpose. What do you see in the image on the right? Faces?  Or a goblet? When the figure and ground are equally balanced, we can be confused by the result.


The following is my own image


Throwing the figure/ground relationship off balance has various repercussions which can create interest in your photograph. In this photo, the ground overwhelming the figure helps reinforce the feeling of isolation and loneliness.



The opposite can create a feeling of intimacy.


Types of figure-ground relation

1. Simple

2. Figure-ground reversal (used in logo formation)

3. Figure ground ambiguity

Using Figure-Ground in composition

The mind tends to seek distinctions between the figure (the subject of the design or image) and the ground (the background). A designer typically wants the figure to demand attention; the ground should support the figure and not distract the viewer. A good design creates a balance in that the ground helps define the figure – whether through creating lines that define the shape of the figure, adding color that creates a mood, or establishing a reference point like place – but the figure is what the viewer notices and processes.

Distinctions between figure and ground can be accomplished in a number of ways:

  • Contrast of color
  • Blurred or out of focus background
  • Placement of the figure in the image
  • Magnifying the figure so that the ground is virtually non-existent
  • Minimizing the figure so that the figure appears to be isolated or insignificant

In addition to interesting optical illusions, figure ground ambiguity can be used to emphasize the ground while the most obvious figure is made less prominent. An example might be sightseers against a landscape in a travel brochure.

Care should be taken, though, to avoid images where the figure is camouflaged unless the intention is to require the viewer to search the image for the figure.

Introduction to Gestalt theory of perception is one of the basics which are part of curriculum of any art school. I am trying to present the gist of it.

Historical background:- After the middle ages and the advent of science, two major changes occur in European art circles.

1. Artists and scientists began to study and tried to understand common elements found in painting, drawing and sculpture that contributed to the beauty of a work of art.  Their observations were codified in the form of  Elements of Art and the Principles of Design.

2. Development of science , particularly human psychology, helped us to understand how our mind perceives its world and therefore its art. Inherent in this was why the Elements of Art and Principles of Design worked. They found there was something within the subconscious that accepted these foundations as more than just visual signals.  These observations led to the  principles of Gestalt. It should be noted, that Gestalt tells us what happens but cannot tell us why, shortcoming of our scientific knowledge,  So we must accept the empirically proven principles of perceptual Gestalt to understand artistic perception.

Definition:– Gestalt psychology or Gestaltism (German: Gestalt – “essence or shape of an entity’s complete form”) is a theory of mind and brain of the Berlin School;

the operational principle of gestalt psychology is that the brain is holistic, parallel, and analog, with self-organizing tendencies. The gestalt effect is the form-generating capability of our senses, particularly with respect to the visual recognition of figures and whole forms instead of just a collection of simple lines and curves. In psychology, Gestaltism is often opposed to structuralism. The phrase “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts” is often used when explaining gestalt theory.”

The Wikipedia further explains:

“The concept of Gestalt was first introduced in contemporary philosophy and psychology by Christian Von Ehrenfels (a member of the School of Brentano). The idea of Gestalt has its roots in theories by David Hume, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Immanuel Kant, David Hartley, and Ernst Mach.”
Max Wertheimer’s unique contribution was to insist that the “Gestalt” is perceptually primary, defining the parts of which it was composed, rather than being a secondary quality that emerges from those parts, as Von Ehrenfels’s earlier Gestalt-Qualität had been.”

The bold line is important i.e.  the principles of art and the elements of design are by-products of the “Gestalt Effect”. No visual art is possible in the world without the effects of Gestalt on the mind. It is the profound influence of our mind’s quest for order and logic that allows us to view an image and find balance, beauty, motion and emotion within the walls of the frame.

For the photographer it is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Ganfeld Effect:-

Ganzfeld (. Gr. complete field) is an affect where the brain seeks differential information from the senses. The majority of sensory input comes from vision throughout the day, and it is rarely static.

So Ganzfeld is a blank space, an homogenous field with no differentiating details.  This fact leads us to understand one of the mental forces behind the eyes jumping around an image seeking details to hold onto. (Here comes the concept of leading lines , guiding eyes to point of focal interest).

Short periods of sensory deprivation  lead to a sense of relaxation and well-being but prolonged period may result in psychosis and hallucination.

Keep this in mind, our brain keeps on searching information,   seeking logic (Gestalt effect) is what motivates the brain to find what is and isn’t important within a frame. It is also this logic behind the elements and principles of composition and design

However it must be kept in mind that these ‘rules’ are not hidebound laws. They are guidelines to help the artist. He/She has to decide which principle needs to be applied and under what condition. What type of composition and color scheme is best suited to convey the intended message and mood.

One of the oft repeated example in this regard is Andre Kertesz image, Chez Mondrian.

This shows how one can break the rule and make the image work. As a custom artists avoid dividing frame in two equal halves. Whereas Kertesz has done exactly that in this image. A door post is dividing the frame in two equal halves. Normally it should leave the viewer wondering which half  carries the focal point of interest.

Yet the image works here. Why ? Kertsez uses number of Gestalt principles to unite the principles.

Try to identify the elements of grouping due to similarity, grouping  and proximity.

If you don’t know what these principles are and how they can help in success of your intended message, keep following this series of tutorial. I shall try to cover all these issues in next few instalments.

Style: "vvv"

In our next installment, I would explain Figure-Ground relations which would explain how and why negative space assumes importance in our perception of art


This is first in a series of articles I intend to present on the Art of Photography. In most of discussions on photography, emphasis is mainly understanding camera control, lighting and editing. To discuss the elements of design and principals of art are considered a domain for painters. But they are as important for photographers as they are for other forms of art.

The ingredients of composition are more than learning the rule of third or leading lines. The elements of composition and principles of design were recognized in the per-renaissance era when artists and scientists began to notice them. The principles are based on scientific studies on psychological perceptions human animals when they observe something.

During these articles I intend to discuss the following constituent parts of composition

1. Human perception and Gestalt Theory

2. Principles of composition

The basic elements of compositions are


Shape and form


Value and texture



3. Color as an element of composition and color contrast

4. Elements of design

I intend to discuss

Balanced vs Imbalanced composition

Importance of negative space

Keeping the composition simple

Rule of third

5, Some important movements in the world of Art and their influence on photography

I shall present each topic separately and in the end it will be apparent how the elements fit together and are utilized to enhance the overall image while suggesting a stronger more direct message to he viewer. You don’t need to memorize anything. All you need to do is to develop an understanding of ideas. Gradually without realizing attention to these artistic principles become your second nature. I shall include many examples in the form of photographs and drawings or graphics to explain my points. Some of the images would be my own, others would be from old masters of taken from social media ( giving credit to the original artist).

The overall discussion is lengthy and would be presented in short small articles published serially.