Visual Mass and Flow in Landscape Photographs

Blog - Phil-osophy on Landscape Photography > Visual Mass and Flow in Landscape Photographs
18/09/2015 - 16:48


Visual mass is the principle of how elements within a composition draw the eye into a photograph. I share some ideas of how this can make a photograph flow and sustain attention


It uses, as do all considered photographic compositions, a basis of conscious or sub-conscious affinity with the mathematics of geometry.


Geometry (from the Ancient Greek words geo- "earth", - metron "measurement") is the branch of mathematics concerned with questions of shape, size, relative position of figures, and the properties of space.


We can have bold singularly dominant elements of visual mass such as the rock in the photograph below:





River Aune, Dartmoor




Then we can consider things with significant visual mass in a large space, such as the tugboat below - however note the how the very small visual masses of the bouys, pilot boat and distant breakwater with it's fort & lighthouse add a sense of perspective, depth and scale:



Tugboat 'SD Careful' heading out acroos Plymouth Sound in the early morning





Teign valley, Dartmoor




The silhouette and the tiny stars show a great juxtaposition of scale in terms of visual mass, yet the stars still en-masse have a notable visual luminance that contrasts against the black tree shadows.



I was on a recent rainy walk along the O Brook, on Dartmoor, when I decided to make three variant compositions to illustrate some of the points of visual mass and flow:




  • firstly a panoramic from 3 overlapping frames in 'landscape' format




I like this composition for its flowing journey, energy and sense of space in which to rest between the visual elements.


  • Then I made a 3:2 ratio composition in 'landscape' format:




Despite the subtle diferences, I think that this version is more dynamic and its flow between the moving static visual masses is more dominant than in the panorama. Though, it still shares many themes of the previous one. Both contain the transition zone of the confluence of the small stream as it enters the O Brook. Transition zones are always a potentially interesting point to include in the narrative of an image - places of juxtapositions, questions, mystery and contemplation.



  • And finally, a vertical 'portrait' format photo of this area:





Some things to think about next time you are out with your camera. Try explore relationships between the elements before you and consider the space around them. Try the idea of subtraction - by removing from the frame the things 'that don't add something' to the narrative of your photo. Varying your height and position even subtley can change the relationships between the things you see in front of you (due to parallax effects) so experiment.






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