Training your eye is very important. To take your photography to the next level and grow as an artist, you need to know what looks good, have an open mind and build your own style.
- Point at the first thing that attracts your attention (often being the brightest point in the image)
- Try to mentally trace the path your eye takes around the image (it's like connecting the dots in order to discover the story, in this case)
- Has the photographer used the rule of thirds? Or a different type of placing the elements in the image?
- Has the photographer shot from his eye level? Or chose a different point of view?
- What is the photographer trying to transmit with the image?
- How has the photographer used the environment to tell the story?
- How has the photographer used light?
- Why does the image work?
- Does the image evoke an emotional response in the viewer's eye?
- From the above, which can be applied to my photography?
I'm going to exemplify the above with an exercise that anyone can do, whether we're talking about a photograph, a painting and why not, a movie screenshot. Art is all around us, waiting for us to see it and recognize its effect on our minds.
I chose the Las Meninas painting by Diego Velázquez because we all know photography was born being highly influenced by the art of painting and it's said that this painting anticipated the invention of the camera because of its effect of naturalism and seen as a 'snapshot' of that particular moment in time and space.
Velázquez invites the viewer to be a part of this painting, and discovering all the details that make this special. One of the things that makes the viewer involved in the painting is the mirror in the background, which is reflecting the images of the young girl's parents, who are watching the painting process from behind. This brings us to another idea to reflect upon; if the viewer would take the position of the subjects in the mirror, the vanishing point of the image would have to be directly in the center of the mirror, but it is positioned to the right of the mirror. From this point of view, it seems that the reflection of the king and queen could be interpreted as being the reflection of the image of the king and queen in the painting that Velázquez works on. It's deliberately left to the viewer to decide upon that.
1. The first thing that attracts the viewer's attention is the little girl which is almost centrally placed in the foreground group of figures. The light that falls from the window on the right makes her the brightest figure in the painting, due to her dress and the way she's positioned so that most of the light falls on her.
2. We first discover the little girl's face, and after that our eyes look around her and discover the other figures that are in the background, their expressions and how they relate to the main subject. Then we discover the two figures in the mid ground, and then the man in the background. Our eyes rest a bit more on the man in the background, because he is wearing dark clothing on a bright lit wall.
3. In the diagram below, the the green lines define the central axis of the back walls of the room. The red diagonal lines define the center of the painting, and the vertical red line articulate the central axes of the painting. The blue lines articulate the orthogonals in the perspective system. Usually, all of these lines would converge, but in this painting none of these line up. This is due to the way Velázquez thought to present this image as a spontaneous portrait. If the main subject were to be placed at the intersection of these lines, the story would have been different, directing all the attention towards the little girl.
4. The horizon line is placed lower than the standing figures in the picture plane, thus creating the illusion that the horizon line of the painting is consistent with the actual eye-level of the king standing in front of the painting.
5. The interpretation of the image as a whole is left to the viewer's decision, after understanding the placement of the figures in the painting. It has been said that a consequence of creating such a spatial construction like this is making himself (Velázquez) as the highest figure in the painting.
6. I think this painting is brought to life by those little details that we, as viewers, discover after trying to connect all the 'dots' together. The painter used the environment to bring little bits and pieces that could back up the first concept that comes to mind. The way the subjects are placed in the frame, the details in the mirror, the man standing by the door in the background, the self-portrait of Velázquez incorporated in the frame, all of them add to the narrative of the painting.
7. Lighting has its great purpose in this painting, Velázquez used natural light coming from the window from the right as the main source, placing the little girl in front of the viewer's attention and creating tridimensionality with the light in the background (light in the foreground, darkness in the mid ground and light again in the background).
8. The image works because the effect of naturalism and spontaneity is achieved, and all the elements in the image gather as a whole, leaving no space for anything less or anything more.
9. It's that type of painting in which the viewer is allowed to take part of the narrative, it almost feels like you are there and not just admiring it.
10. The last point is up to us to incorporate all that we've learned and all that we'll be learning from now on into our concepts and ideas. The more you know about something, the more experience you have to take great photography.