Two-Dimensional Forces of Images

With the recent increase in 3D images, the interactivity and ability to create a virtual reality within three dimensions has been praised.  It has even come to be expected.  More movies are being released or re-released in 3D, and 3D televisions are beginning to appear in homes.  In comparison, two-dimensional images and media may seem simple and less desirable.  However, there are several forces at work within the frame of two-dimensional images.  The major types of these forces are outlined in “The Two-Dimensional Field: Forces Within the Screen” (the seventh chapter of Sight, Sound, and Motion by Zettl): main direction, magnetism of frame, attraction of mass, asymmetry of frame, figure and ground, psychological disclosure, and vectors.  Some of these forces are more apparent and easier to explain than others, though each can add significant motion or intensity to a still image in a two-dimensional frame.

Main direction is the probably the most obvious force seen in an image; either a photo has a horizontal or vertical direction.  Horizontal direction usually suggests calmness and rest, as well as stability.  We tend to view the world around us through mostly horizontal orientation, with the horizon acting as a point of reference.  In contrast, vertical direction is more dynamic, powerful, and drastic.  Both these directions can be combined into one image to create a more realistic view of an environment.  Tilting the horizontal plane of an image can create other intense emotions, like stress, excitement, or energy.

The magnetism of a frame is seen in the tendency of the corners of the frame to attract objects that are near them.  If the object in the image appears more to the right side of the frame, the magnetic pull of the image will be towards the right.  An object that appears in the center of the frame has an even pull to all sides and corners.  If an object takes up most of the space of the frame, it will be pulled from all sides and appear to be expanded.  Likewise, if an object is small and far away from the sides of the frame, the object will appear to be compressed.

Graphic mass is determined by the saturation of color of an object in an image or of the image itself.  The more graphic mass an image has, the greater its graphic weight.  Both graphic mass and weight make an object or image more prominent within the frame.

As discussed in a previous post (Image Composition in Religious Art), Western cultures tend to read images left to right.  This comes into play with the asymmetry of a frame.  The right side of an image usually gets more attention from the viewer than the left.  This phenomenon can change the dynamics or message of an image, depending on what object is shown on the right side.

Another apparent and basic element of two-dimensional images is figure and ground.  This force hinges on the mind’s tendency to organize the environment by establishing a background, which is the stable element of an image.  It is usually simple to distinguish a figure from the background because it is the object of an image that lies in front and is less stable than the ground and more likely to move.  The background will seem to continue behind and beyond the figure.

Psychological closure is simply the automatic tendency of our minds to mentally fill in gaps of visual images to create a discernable pattern or message.  If given a random pattern of dots, the mind will attempt to connect the dots to create a object or pattern.

Finally, the forces that create motion within two-dimensional images are vectors.  These directional forces can guide the eye to different points within or outside of the image frame.  Vectors can be seen in obvious elements such as arrows, signs, or people pointing in images, but also more subtly in the direction of lines created by objects or the direction subjects are looking within the image.  Vectors can create several directions within images.  Continuing vectors are two or more vectors that point and guide the eye in the same direction, while converging vectors point to each other.  Diverging vectors point away from each other.


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