4. The Creative Eye in Photography – Retina
The creative eye in photography. We know for sure that our vision is one of the fastest actions we as humans can accomplice. In a split-second we can see an enormous amount of shapes, yet we only perceive one item at a time. The body responds faster than our evaluation (Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)).
The eye looks subjectively, guided by both memory and feelings. We do not usually see things in our surroundings as they are, but as we believe they should be. Therefore, when we take pictures in nature, we may not see the light pole in the background when we take a picture of a person. And to our big surprise and dismay, it seems like the pole is growing out of the portrait’s head in the final photography. A photographer must learn to develop retina awareness.
The inner back wall of the eye is covered by a light-sensitive retina. The retina is not flat as a movie or a digital image sensor, but spherical like the inside of a table tennis ball. This means we through the lens of the eye can see our surroundings with a field of view of almost 180° when both eyes are used. Retina contains millions of photosensitive sensory cells called photoreceptors. The densely packed receptors are in shape and function divided into two groups: Taps and rods. The tap cells enable us to perceive colors, but they require a specific light level to work. These tiny taps are packed together in the central part of the retina, fovea centralis, especially the area called the yellow spot, the macula. This place is responsible for visual sharpness – our ability to see fine details. When we focus on something, it hits the yellow spot. Fovea is only a very small part of the retina. The remaining part consists mostly of the larger rod cells, which have greater sensitivity to light and give us the so-called night vision. The rods are also largely responsible for our perception of movement, but with poorer sharpness than fovea’s many taps enable us to observe. Therefore, the eye must ‘jump’ around in so-called sacred movements (micro-movements) to make us have a closer look. It should be centered in the yellow spot so that we can pick up the necessary colors and details. Some authors have described the peripheral vision as “an uninterruptedly exploring of the field of view telling the eye when to focus and then collect information”. The peripheral, blurry, black-and-white and strong-motion-sensitive vision unconsciously collects image information (subliminal vision) which affects us. If we were consciously paying attention to all the information on the retina, we would become overwhelmed by visual impressions. A sudden movement in a tonal contrast (a black and white pattern) in the periphery of our field of vision, we respond to unconsciously. Instinctively, the head and eyes turn towards the movement to perceive color, shape and details that enable us to respond and perhaps subsequently identify the moving object. Also, William Mortensen’s captive patterns (the diagonal, the s-curve, the triangle and the dominant figure) are explained through the structure of the retina. The former curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, John Szarkowski, some years ago described how we use the central vision to see things and see them clearly. He claimed that we are going around “pointing with our eyes” on what we want to see. He also said, that while we do this with our peripheral views, we also gather information, but not on a high level of consciousness. What we see and how we see is therefore, an extremely complicated process which, in addition to the retina’s vision cells, involves both memory and expectations. But before we take a closer look at the perceptive process, we need to elaborate on the eye’s micro-movements.
Eye Movement Studies
When we read a text, the eye moves along the line of text with small jumps and intermediate rest. When we read a picture, the eye’s movements, on the other hand, are less systematic in terms of direction. Scans from eye movement studies show, that the eye doesn’t use the most time on what we on a conscious level think is most important in the picture, but on things as angles, triangular surface and high contrast areas. They get more attention than straight lines and areas on a regular basis tone. When studying faces, most time is spent on eyes and lips, where peoples state of mind can be read, a lot more than on hair, forehead, neck and clothes. It has also been found, that if a photography is provided with a title and the viewer is familiar with it, it also affects the way the person reads the picture. The eye’s small twitches are registered with so-called eye-trackers, mounted on a headband and connected to a computer program, showing the individual photographs on a screen and drawing a track of the viewer’s eye movements from a center of interest and around the contours, tones and colors of the image content. These twitches are performed approximately five times per second. Studies have shown, that we do not collect information during the movement, but only when the eye stops and focuses. When we have enough information for a conclusion, we stop.
The above-mentioned facts could also be why William Mortensen in his formula for image success, requires a good picture that includes the viewer through movement along interesting contours, in noticeable qualities and affirmative forms. The image for each viewer must have a long visual life as possible – a late expiration date.