Gestalt Theory for Photography Composition (9 Laws of the Gestalt Theory)

Today we are gonna talk about the Gestalt theory. It is more of a psychology technique than a straight-up composition technique. But we can use it to our benefit and compose our shots.

The theory states that we perceive entire patterns or configurations, not merely individual components. Meaning when our subject is a group, we begin to perceive the group as one and may not see them as individual entities. For example, in a song, one hears the melody first and only then may perceptually divide it up into notes.

Similarly, in vision, one sees the form of the circle first. Only after this primary apprehension might one notice that it is made up of lines.

So far with me? It is simple, it clearly states that when we see a group of objects, we tend to perceive the group first and then the individual components of the group.

And now we are gonna talk about some principles of the Gestalt theory that will help us in understanding this psychology:

1. Law of Proximity

The law of proximity states that when an individual perceives an assortment of objects, they perceive objects that are close to each other as forming a group.

For example, in the figure illustrating the law of proximity, there are many circles, but we perceive the collection of circles in groups. Specifically, we perceive that there is one group of circles on the left side of the image and three groups of circles on the right side of the image.

For example, we have a flock of Black-tailed Godwits flying here. But since one of them is flying ahead, we perceive the rest as a group, and this one Godwit flying separately from the group.

2. Law of Similarity

The law of similarity states that elements within an assortment of objects are perceptually grouped together if they are similar to each other. This similarity can occur in the form of shape, colour, shading, or other qualities.

For example, the figure illustrating the law of similarity portrays circles all equal distance apart from one another. In this depiction, few circles are shaded black, and few circles are shaded red. We perceive the black circles as grouped together and the red circles as grouped together, forming lines within the circles. This perception of lines is due to the law of similarity.

For example, here since all the items sold by the shopkeeper are golden in colour, we think of them as a group of items, even though each item is of a varied shape. That also makes the shopkeeper stand out.

3. Law of Closure

Gestalt psychologists believed that humans tend to perceive objects as complete rather than focusing on the gaps that the object might contain.  

For example, here we will perceive an incomplete circle as a complete circle.  That tendency to complete shapes and figures is called closure.

For example, we can perceive the shape of Ganpati Bappa here first, and then we understand that these are a bunch of almonds. Since we have been programmed to believe that such a shape represents Lord Ganesha.

4. Law of Simplicity

The law of simplicity or the law of good figure holds that when you’re presented with a set of ambiguous or complex objects, your brain will make them appear as simple as possible.

For example, here this hill is made up of so many roads, trees, there is so much. But our brain will tend to see only one hill.

5. Law of Symmetry

The law of symmetry states that the mind perceives objects as being symmetrical and forming around a center point. It is perceptually pleasing to divide objects into an even number of symmetrical parts. Therefore, when two symmetrical elements are unconnected the mind perceptually connects them to form a coherent shape. 

For example, here we can see the two men standing and hardly notice the tree.

6. Law of Continuity

The law of continuity states that objects are perceived as lines that move along the smoothest path. We perceive elements of objects to have trends of motion, which indicate the path that the object is on. Elements don’t actually have to be moving in order to benefit from this principle, but they do have to give the impression of motion.

For example, we know that the fencing does not stop with this point but extends beyond and we can imagine it stretching all across this place.

7. Law of Past Experience

The law of past experience implies that under some circumstances visual stimuli are categorized according to past experience.

If an individual reads an English word they have never seen, they use the law of past experience to interpret the letter “A” rather than a new alphabet.

The perfect example of this can be silhouettes, we know this is the shape of a bird so can visualize a bird sitting on this branch.

8. Law of Common Region

The law of common region says that when elements are located in the same closed region, we perceive them as belonging to the same group.

The circles are right next to each other so that the dot at the end of one circle is actually closer to the dot at the end of the neighboring circle. But despite how close those two dots are, we see the dots inside the circles as belonging together.

For example, the horizon has kinda created two groups in this image. The birds flying and the ones reflected. Though they are close to each other, they still appear different.

9. Figure-ground Principle

The figure-ground principle states that people instinctively perceive objects as either being in the foreground or the background. They either stand out prominently in the front (the figure) or recede into the back (the ground).

For example, here we can distinctively see the boys in the foreground and then look at the other elements in the scene even when they are in the same focal plane as the boys.

So guys this is the Gestalt theory, maybe a bit complicated. But once you get the knack of following it in your photography, it can bring a lot of thought and creativity into your work.

I hope you liked my blog. Do let me know your suggestions and thoughts in the comments section. Thank you!

Also Read – Rule Of Space in Photography

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