This is a topic, which is not explained well anywhere I could find, though its concrete cases are explained in many books thoroughly. Once you understand the basic concept, your composition understanding should greatly improve.
We perceive everything, or almost everything regarding compositional principles based on how dangerous it is to us.
The center of the image is our “safe zone”, as it’s related to our center of vision - it’s in the control. But once we move the object to the sides - we need more tension to see it, and therefore the danger appears! It wants to bite us, or, it’s more likely to do so, when it’s out from our safe vision zone. It moves to our peripheral vision zone.
That’s right: the frame refers to our eyes field of view.
If the object is above us, it may fall on us or attack, therefore everything which goes up from the center line, adds visual tension, and therefore danger. It’s not literally dangerous, but we feel tension. Sometimes, and even often, we want to add it. And we must know! How to add or reduce it.
If something is below the center of the image, it’s not dangeous, and even calming. It’s also relative to the horizon line.
Think about the concept of danger and how it affects the viewer. It goes about everything: do we want to increase or decrease the danger(visual tension)?
Let’s look at several other examples:
Yes, horizontals are more calm, diagonals are more dangerous. But it stems from our knowledge of nature -diagonal may fall, vertical less likely and horizontal is the less dangerous of all.
The higher the horizon line - the more the earth on us. The less, the more the sky, less danger.
One and many: we perceive few as not dangerous, but many as one. So, if you have any kind of repetition, it increases the danger (the visual tension).
I explained the dynamics of size and frame borders, now let’s discuss why points form lines.
The whole point of this article is to teach you asking questions why, rather than learning rules you don’t know the principle of working.
Points are our visual interests, and our mind creates trajectories of walking from one point to another. That’s why 3 points create a triangle. Other point combinations create corresponding figures.
Lines are movements of our eye, and also the trajectories. Is something moves slowly and steadily, it’s not as dangerous as if it moves in let’s say zig-zags. So, think about it. Horizontals and verticals are quite safe, arcs are quite safe too and create a pleasant natural feeling (in naturs the most of things are curved. We love nature). The same goes with movements trajectories.
Clusters and patterns are lots of points or lines, or even figures. They are definitely more tensed than simple shapes, as our vision needs to make efforts to distinguish what’s there, and it may be a trap or camouflage, as we know from nature.
More organized are calmer, more chaotic are more dangerous.
Rhythm is visual language is a repetition. Our mind tries to organize and if it sees the repetition, it simplifies the process, and feels a certain pleasure from it. It can predict.
Same with forms - round forms are not dangerous, rectangular are more or less stable, and with pointy angles create a certain feeling of tension - we don’t want to get prickled!
Any kind of contrast attracts our attention, as non-uniform “anything” is more dangerous usually. We perceive by contrast only. The movement is one of them. This is our tool of defense. The whole grass is green, but there’s something on it. We immediately recognize it.
It may be tonal or color contrast or any kind of.
Now it’s important realizing, there’s no good or bad in composition, but rather what you want to accomplish. Do you want to heighten the feeling of tension or visual interest or decrease it? Definitely something of less danger attracts less of our attention, and also keeps it less on it That’s all about it.
There are many aspects of composition, but this one should be understood thoroughly.
The rest is more complicated, you may not read it further.
The effect(let’s say the diagonal)
- how it affects us (creating the feeling of tension and falling)
- why (it affects us that way) (we learnt from life diagonals mostly are not stable and fall)
I encourage each time you learn anew thing in composition is to study it this way. How it affects us, and why.
Why we may prefer more complex forms to simple ones? As they give s more to study. Simple - fast. Though, children may prefer it.
Why we prefer overlapping forms to tangent ones? As it’s easier for us to determine spacial relationships.
Why we may like putting the corners out of interest by reducing the contrast? because it’s our peripherlal vision. We don’t see that well with it, ad like when we see mainly in our focus of interest.
Our mind likes organization, because it’s more predictable for it, but not too much, so it won’t be boring.
Therefore different armatures exist, which are lines and forms, which organize other elements together to be more plausible for the mind.
Why then just a wall line may be perceived dangerous, tough it’s an inner corner of the room? because our eyes perceive it first as an inverted cube, and only later we get it’s inverted actually. We first perceive lines, at least in pictures.
Objects may “squeeze” others, and we can put them in the center of interest by doing so. The same goes for radial compositions - they capture or aim to attack the object, therefore we feel more interest to them (as it might attack us too).
Foreground, middleground and background create more visual tension, as we need to track them all at different distances, rather than at one. More danger therefore.
Generally, depth is more dangerous and more tension than no depth. Aerial, textural and other kinds of perspectives increase the sense of danger.
Visual affinity is calming. No contrast, no need to worry, no enemy.
Why we perceive any kind of visual line between objects as an obstacle? Well, because our mind distinguishes it’s just a line, but our “first” visual mind doesn’t. It may separate characters, creating tension. Is it dangerous? No, but it’s an obstacle for their movement, and therefore some tension for us, if we want to break through it.
Black big masses are definitely dangerous, as we don’t expect anything good from darkness, which hides enemies.
There may be drawn lines and lines of movement, crossing it. Our mind will create diagonals or crosses, which create tension. Why? because it’s a clash, a conflict. We don’t like conflicts, we like when lines go parallel - predictable and safe.
More space infront of objects or characters: the reason for this is we leave more space for us. If we want to talk with a person, we would prefer seeing her the way we could fit infront. The same if we make a picture with a bench: we leave some space for us to travel to it and sit.
A bit more complex to explain why we would prefer more space from the side of sunshine, but it may be because we prefer to be in the sunshine rather than in shadow? Not sure.
Frames within frames: it may be we like those, because they create a room for us to hide. It’s safer seeing something from a window rather than standing in the field.
The balance: we might feel the balance if objects are evenly dangerous, but one because it’s closer to peripheral vision (the border of the frame), and the other because it’s bigger.
Eye lines are also dangerous, and we need to track where the person looks. It creates a strong line. We know it may be danger where the person looks. We can interpret the eye-lines as straight lines of movement.