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Creative Composition: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques by Harold Davis

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Chapter 2. Unleash your imagination

Using Visual Ambiguity

Look at the photo on the facing page. What do you see?

Does this image show a Chinese landscape of mountains? Look again. Look more closely.

If this is a photo of a landscape painting of mountains, why are there footsteps running across the tops of the mountains? And, could that be driftwood speckling the scene?

A moment of closer inspection will reveal that you are looking at a pattern made by waves on a beach. In fact, the photo on the facing page is a cropped and rotated version of the photo shown below.

It's human to see only what we expect to see. An implication is that photographers often miss visual ambiguity.

But ambiguity packs real compositional punch. There's something magical and compelling about inspiring the viewer to say, "Now wait a minute!"

Even if you know perfectly well that you are looking at a beach, at some level you may not be completely sure. Seeding this kind of doubt in the viewer-at a conscious or unconscious level-adds power to your compositions.

Look for opportunities to create compositions that compel a double take and offer the delicious vertigo of visual ambiguity. Here's how.

Start by learning to identify visual ambiguities yourself. Watch for visuals that can be interpreted in multiple ways. Some of the best subjects for this are found in nature: water, wOod, animals and topography appear in shapes that resemble things they are not.

Figure 2.1. Pages 82–83: Sunset came swiftly along the rugged California ...

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