Tyler’s Tips Episode 19: Dissonance


Welcome to Tyler’s Tips. Today I’m going to be talking about dissonance and why it’s such a powerful tool for storytelling.

OK so what is dissonance in an image? In my opinion dissonance is a type of contrast essentially. Usually the contrast of ideas that creates a little bit of discomfort or a challenge for the viewer. It can challenge a preconceived idea or can just be putting two things together that you normally wouldn’t see together and it forces the viewer’s brain to kind of figure that out. And it can be a really powerful tool for storytelling because that challenge, that little forced interaction that we don’t see as much with a really pretty photo or an easy photo is it’s more memorable, it forces a little bit more interaction and therefore more engagement.

So this is on my mind because I recently edited all the images from a big personal project I did last year with a friend of mine, Emma Sherman, who’s a ballet dancer. You may have seen some of my earlier work that I did with her from a couple of years ago. We got together again and we did some interesting stuff, some creative stuff and we pushed into this space of dissonance more than we had in the past. And so the concept is very much on my mind and I wanted to share with you some examples.

So one of our concepts is we did a shoot that was Emma doing some dance moves and some poses that were bordering on the sexual, a little bit sensual, but instead of making it sort of a typical beauty shoot what we did is she covered her body throughout the shoot in dirt and mud. And so we wound up with images like this and the dissonance of course is that you normally wouldn’t see this type of photo with the woman covered in mud. So it creates a little bit of a different look and it forces us as viewers to see this image and disentangle this sort of preconception we have about this type of photo and the beauty and the sensuality that goes with that because she’s covered in mud and it just kind of makes us think about it a little bit more. So there you go, an example of using dissonance to create something a little bit maybe more engaging than your typical beauty shot like that that we’ve all seen a zillion times.

So another idea that we explored is both Emma and I really are fascinated with musculature and particularly like the musculature and the anatomy of the human back. And we talked about this at some length and we came up with this idea to shoot her back which is very muscular and this is how we did it. And the reason I think this image is compelling is because we added this dissonant component which is mostly that red linen. The red linen and to a certain degree the very feminine hairstyle. Those two things they’re very feminine and sensual especially with the low key lighting and that high contrast lighting with the deep dark shadows. Those are sensual visual cues, we’ve seen those things used in photos of half-naked women a million times.

Now the dissonance is when we add that to this very powerful pose where she has her arms so rigidly linear and she’s flexing the muscles in her back so all these muscles poke out. So you have this sort of powerful musculature and athleticism mixed with this sort of traditional feminine sensual visual cues. It creates an image that’s a little bit weird honestly in a way. But I think more compelling because of that dissonance than had we done it simply as an athletic image or had we done it as a sensual image. I think that the intersection of those two ideas creates something a little bit dissonant but also kind of really interesting.

So there you are. A couple of examples of using dissonance to create images that are perhaps a little bit more interesting. So next time you’re out shooting try to think of ways you can incorporate dissonant components in to tell your story in a more compelling way or more memorable way to get a little bit more engagement from the people who are looking at your images. So I hope this was a useful tip. As always, thank you for your time. And if you have any ideas or questions you’d like me to discuss in a future Tyler’s Tip episode shoot me an email and I’ll work it in. Until next time.