According to photographer Annie Leibovitz, “One doesn’t stop seeing. One doesn’t stop framing. It doesn’t turn off and on. It’s on all the time”. I find this to be true; I am almost always framing images in my mind, including the day I shot the image above. On that day, I had a few images hanging in a group show in a small gallery, and had strolled outside to take a break from the reception. The light of the late day sun and the shadows in the corridor caught my eye. My phone was the only camera I had with me, so I used it to capture the image. I liked the result, and I thought I would share my musings on why I think it works.
Use of perspective
As it turns out, the phone was appropriate for this image, as the lens is relatively wide angle. (It shows up as 4mm in EXIF data, but considering the crop factor of the small sensor, the effective focal length is moderately wide … not the super-wide that 4mm would indicate). So what did this lens do for the image? A wide angle lens, positioned close to a foreground object (in this case, the wall) enhances linear perspective, thus seeming to lengthen the corridor. (For another discussion of perspective see my August 2014 blog post, “Creative Use of Perspective”.) The slightly exaggerated linear perspective creates a senses of depth, which tends to draw the viewer into the image.
Lines, visual flow, and graphic tension
The lines of the corridor walls, ceiling, and floor lead us to the opening at the end on the left side of the image. There we find two elements of interest: the low sun, with flare, and the tree with its sinuous branches. The shadows cast on the wall by the tree branches pull our eye back to the right side of the image, completing our visual sweep. It’s also worth noting that the lines of the tree and its shadow flow in opposite directions, thus creating the graphic element of dynamic tension, which keeps our eye moving as well.
The beholder’s share
Finally, inclusion of a portion of the perpendicular wall on the right side of the image does a couple of things. First, it gives the viewer a sense of standing near the wall, thus enhancing the feeling of being in the scene. Second, it shows the viewer that there is a space off to the right, and since that space is darker, creates some mystery as to what may be there. An alcove? Another person? The viewer’s involvement in the scene and thinking/wondering about it is what art historian Alois Riegl (1858 - 1905) termed “the beholder’s involvement”. Art historian Ernst Gombrich (1909 - 2001) later elaborated on this and called it “the beholder’s share”.
Readers, I hope you've enjoyed this discussion. I'd love to hear your thoughts as well, so please feel free to leave a comment. As always, I wish you happy shooting and a satisfying photographic journey!