Tyler’s Tips Episode 2: Visual Mass


Welcome to Tyler’s Tips. Today we’re going to talking about one of my favorite things in the whole conversation about composition. And that is visual mass. First let’s define composition. In my brain what composition means, is just what we choose to put inside the rectangle, when we’re creating a photograph. How we choose to arrange those things, and maybe most importantly what we choose not to have in the frame. Visual mass is the idea that all these components are not created equal. Some things and ideas have a really powerful visual and a psychological draw. And that’s where our eye goes when we look at the photograph.

An example of this is the color red. So red, bright saturated red particularly, is a color that it’s very hard for humans to not see. For example, we use it for taillights. We use it for stop lights. And the idea is you’re driving along looking at your phone and you catch that red out of the corner of your eye and you’re just going to stop and not have an accident. Because it’s so hard to not notice it.

So, this is a powerful tool in our photography because if we incorporate red into the photo, in such a way that’s it’s feeding our story, then it becomes this really powerful visual focal point. How many times have you seen a photograph of a beautiful woman with bright red lipstick? We see it all the time, because it really works. It becomes a beautiful counter point between the eyes and the mouth, it’s gorgeous.

Now, on the other hand, if we take a beautiful scene, a street photograph that’s got people going through it, and cars moving. And we frame it up and we take our photo at the perfect moment, but we failed to pay attention to that fact that there’s a big stop sign right here, and it’s above the head of the main character walking through the scene. And now we’ve setup a conflict. This person is now one part of the visual mass of this image, it’s like the focal point. But then we also have this big red octagon that’s fighting that, and it’s not really a part of the story. And that can really erode the power of the idea of the photograph.

So other things that have visual mass, high contrast lines, the intersection where white meets black. Other kinds of high contrast as well. I’ll come back to that. Geometric shapes are really powerful. Especially if they’re interrupted. Which is interesting, I think our eyes, they want to follow a circle and complete it. Or they want to follow a square and complete it. And if it’s partially obscured, our brain wants to sit on that, because it really like that little tease of being able to … It knows where that circle completes, it can see it. And it’s really powerful to us.

The contrast of ideas is also a really important part of visual mass. So visualize the hand of a grandmother who’s 85 years old, holding her grandchild’s hand who’s five years old. And picture that texture and all the years, and life that’s in that 85 year old woman’s skin. And then picture the skin, that beautiful smooth skin of the child. And all the innocence and the potential that lives in that. And the two contrasting next to each other. Maybe even laced together. That has incredible psychological mass. It tells such a powerful story.

So, next time you’re framing up a photo, and you’re getting ready to pull the trigger, take a second and think about how the visual mass of the different components in your photograph are either helping your story, and making it stronger, more powerful idea, or if they’re fighting it.