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Thread: Psyoptics: The Power of a Photograph

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    Subscriber Member Georg Baumann's Avatar
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    Psyoptics: The Power of a Photograph

    Greetings,

    Just a few thoughts on photography.

    In music we deal with a relatively young discipline called psychoaccoustics, and while this "sounds a bit weired" if you never heard about it before, it is a serious aspect of music science.

    Applied psychoaccoustics, audiokinetics etc. has has implications on disciplines such as music psychology or music therapy. There are obvious upper and lower limits in our perception of sound based on physical principles.

    Back to photography, the same ideas could be applied here as well in something like "applied psyoptics". While this term does not exists to my knowledge, it is used already in a wide range of applications.

    In short, our vision has limitations as well, defined by the visible spectrum of light availble to us in the very narrow band of 400 to 700 nm inbetween ultraviolett and infrared. Three cranial nervs control six bands of muscles that control the functions of our eye.

    Informations about the visual field, right left, color etc. travels via the visual pathway from the receptors of the eye over the optical nerve to the brain.

    (Image courtesy National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Maryland.


    So, in a nutshell, this is what we all have in common when it comes to vision.

    As we know, we all perceive pictures in different ways, and this of course is based on our individual background.

    Kai-Uwe Grundlach, one of the top photographers in Germany, shot the photographs for the Mercedes G series.

    (Courtesy of Studiuo Gundlach, Kai-Uwe Gundlach)





    Now, I think we can assume that Mercedes was looking for the most powerful photographs for their advertising campaign.

    Kai-Uwe utilised computer generated images, CGI techniques to create these stunning pictures. This means, the cars in the shots were rendered, while he photographed the background landscapes in a traditional way, and in addition used a special camera to shoot the cubic sphere of the landscape, so all these infomations will be mirrored on the cars surface, and is later combined in 3D software when the car is projected into the landscape.

    As a result, the reflections on the cars surface are as real as it gets.

    These techniques have a variety of advantages for the client and the photographer at the same time. Locations can be shot much more relaxed, no security is needed, transportation of cars for the shooting etc., the whole logistic chain becomes a much easier exercise, and I would assume CGI to be an attractive proposition for both, photographer and client.

    Looking at the endresults, personally I find them stunning, I would go a step further and call CGI a style tool available to photographers today. Recent Photoshop Versions from CS3 on started to implement basic fundtionality of CGI, and while this still has a long way to go in my opinion, it is a trend that can be seen as part of our photographic future.

    I think we can say that Executives in the advertisment world choose the special look of such pictures for their very impact on the viewer in the first place.

    So what defines this impact on a variety of observers from different cultural backgrounds? This is exactly were a discipline such as psyoptics would come in and help us in the process to understand the correlation between the visual reference and emotional reflex of any given observer.

    My very own reaction when I saw Kai's work for the first time was best to be described such that I had to look twice. - I would think, this in it's own is of great value for any advertisement shots. -

    I showed his work to a few people who have no background in photography, and never heard of CGI in the first place.

    The result was that every single observer found them stunning and fantastic piutures, but at the same time they were insecure as to wether they are real or not. Some even said "They look too real to be true."

    Ok, this was not a valid field test environment to draw conclusions from, I also do not have printable files and could not show large format versions in a print hence only on the screen versions, but I assume the results would have been no different.

    My own reaction is similiar, something striking that I would call hyper-reality is jumping out of these shots, and of course it is the result of tasteful use of cutting edge CGI tools.

    Try to look at the shots again and imagine the car would not be in there, now imagine them to be produced in a more traditional and technically flawless landscape technique. I am certain that there would be a great difference in visual appearance left, and we could easily find out what shots were made in a traditional way and what shots utilised CGI.

    We are used to see traditionally shot pictures more than CGI created pictures, our eyes are trained on the traditional versions. This might change in future generations, and probably already has started.

    So, the executives in mercedes decided that Kai's work gives them the most powerfull emotional impact for thier campaign for a wide audience, and I guess they were right, however, I wonder, do they even know why?

    Defining a discpline such as Psyoptics could help us understanding more about the impact of pictures and why they work in a certain way.

    May be such particular research exists already, and a I am just not aware about it. Certainly it exists in a variety of different disciplines, but probably not as a specialised subset.


    The most powerful picture database that exists on the planet is certainly our brain. We do not shoot frames per second, but our perception is based on a flicker fusion treshold and persistance of vision, the frequency of an intermittend light stimulus that appears to be steady to us.

    We know that 25-30 frames per second give us the impression of a steady moevement, but this does not mean that this is our limitation. Persistance of vision accounts for the illusion of movement, we all know the flippin pages effect of a cartoon figure that appears to move when we flip the pages quickly.

    Our eyes can be fooled in various ways, M.C. Esher’s work is good example.

    Courtesy of M.C. Esher Gallery,

    Relativity 1953 Lithograph




    At the same time, our eye/brain funtions have access to every picture we ever perceived and it interprets new informations on the basis of our already perceived images. Now that’s what I call a database!

    Even the “photographic untrained eye”, and this is an oxymorone in deed, perceives Kai Uwe’s pictures as too good to be true by referencing them to the database of a liftime experience of pictures stored in our brain. The notion that we as photographers have a trained eye compared to non photographers is something that I would dispute in that context.

    The eye is not a camera, does not have a frame rate or a scan rate but the system eye/brain combines motion, detail and pattern detectors, the output of all are combined into our visual experience.

    What works and what works less for powerful images, and most of all why, a fascinating field to explore.....
    Last edited by Georg Baumann; 5th July 2009 at 06:14.

  2. #2
    ddk
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    Re: Psyoptics: The Power of a Photograph

    To me the cars look like HDR'd images and the backgrounds CGI, either way I don't care much for the images. I'm kind of bored and tired with this look, its over done time and time again in the past 5 or 6 years...
    Last edited by ddk; 5th July 2009 at 06:54.

  3. #3
    Oxide Blu
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    Re: Psyoptics: The Power of a Photograph

    What David said.

    Fwiw, the whole potato is call 'psychographics' -- the effect sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch has on us, psychologically. It has been known -- the 'what', for sometime. The 'why' remains undefined. There is a reason why the fast food restaurants are primary colors + white, mid-tier restaurant color schemes are secondary colors (orange, green, purple) and 'off' colors, and the top-end restaurants are 'royal' colors, the colors of gems and fine woods. Most folks never even notice that, but it affects how you will behave as a customer, and what you expect as product and service.

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    Subscriber Member Georg Baumann's Avatar
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    Re: Psyoptics: The Power of a Photograph

    Yeah, Demographics and Psychographics are tools used by the marketing yuppies of the world to manipulate purchasing behavior.

    What do they like about your product?
    What do they like about your competitor's product?
    What made them decide to buy your product?
    Did they know which brand they were buying before they purchased it?
    What advertising messages had they seen prior to buying?
    How much disposable or discretionary income is available for this type of purchase?
    What are their hobbies?
    What emotional aspects impact their purchase?
    What is their social class or status?
    Who is the actual decision-maker for this type of purchase?
    What values and attitudes play a part in this type of purchase?
    Who do they look to when making purchasing decisions?

    You can buy all kind of reports on their analysis

    http://www.marketresearch.com/browse.asp?categoryid=81

    However, I am more interested in the why.

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    Subscriber Member Georg Baumann's Avatar
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    Re: Psyoptics: The Power of a Photograph

    Example: During my studies of classical music I was involved in music therapy as well. Research into epileptic seizures found that by recording muscle contractions (electric currents) and using synthesisers to translate these recorded contractions into sounds, would stop a seizure in a testperson when he listened to the sounds during a seizure.

    It is here where my interest is triggered rather than the implications of music on consumer behaviour.

    Same counts for photography.

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    Subscriber Member TRSmith's Avatar
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    Re: Psyoptics: The Power of a Photograph

    George, this is pretty interesting stuff on a very intellectual level. I totally respect your interest in it and admire your curiosity. However, I have to say that this kind of study with regard to photography is all a bit above me. It might be that I am being ruled by my right brain or perhaps I was born with a birth defect that prevents me from appreciating the value of this sort of detailed analysis. Maybe I'm just plain not smart enough. But I almost immediately do a glaze-over when analysis of the "why" trumps the "wow".

    I'm sure many of the most gifted and legendary photographers did their due-diligence with regard to the study of art, composition, light, perception, etc. And maybe that's why the images they produced continue to resonate with me (us?) long after the fact. Or, maybe the elegance of their imagery was nothing more than instinct and a profound ability to get their brains out of the way and see what was in front of them. I hope it was at least a combination of the two. My personal preference would be that it leans a lot heavier on the latter instead of the former.

    I suppose I should simply let this post go by and stay out of the conversation, and it might be that I am here and now confessing to the very limitation that will doom my photography to mediocrity. Nevertheless, I am raising my (respectful) hand to admit that this kind of intellectualization of image-making and perception leaves me cold.

    Best,
    Tim

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    Subscriber Member Georg Baumann's Avatar
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    Re: Psyoptics: The Power of a Photograph

    Hi Tim,

    thanks for your thoughtful comments!

    I am new to photography, hence learning, and in exchanging my thoughts with others, I do learn. This is my main motivation to share such thoughts.

    I learned that this came across to you as an intellectualisation, I did not intend this by any means, in opposite. - Intellectualisation is something I was confronted with by studying Th.W.v. Adorno, and believe me, ever since I try my best to express my thoughts in a concise way. -

    This morning it was raining buckets, and I sat here in my nickers with a coffee and hangover from last night, pretty pissed about the weather, when I wrote the few lines, pondering about the reasons of photographic emotional impacts on observers.

    The point I was trying to make was, I believe this to be a pretty much unexplored area, even more so in the flood of snaps arising from the age of digicams. Photography to me is a form of art beyond any questions, as is music to me, and I treat it with the same respect and never ending curiosity.

    What I like a lot in your comment is your statement when analysis of the "why" trumps the "wow", and I do not think we need too much analysis either, but a better understanding, the latter defines us in our quest as humans.

    So do not take it all too serious, consider the circumstances I wrote it under, and be assured, I am trying my best NOT to think when I shoot.

    Thanks Tim!
    Last edited by Georg Baumann; 5th July 2009 at 14:58.

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    Subscriber Member TRSmith's Avatar
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    Re: Psyoptics: The Power of a Photograph

    The image of you writing this while hungover and in your knickers makes your investigation even more impressive. Although, it's a mental image I'll work hard to scrub from my brain. If you can do this kind of thinking while recovering from too much fun, you are a better man than I!

    Best,
    Tim

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    Member Arjuna's Avatar
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    Re: Psyoptics: The Power of a Photograph

    I wouldn't have called psycho-acoustics so young, as I encountered it when I was in University, well over thirty years ago. I didn't study it myself then, but some of the people I knew and hung out with did, and we talked about it. My recollection is that a lot of it was about the relationships between our perceptions and the physical acoustic phenomenon as measured. I remember a few things, vaguely, for example, the Fletcher-Munson (if I remember the name correctly) curves showing how our perception of loudness/volume varies with frequency.

    The obvious modern application would seem to be the mpeg/mp3 algorithms for determining which parts of an audio stream can be destroyed during compression, with the least perceived damage to the reconstituted result. And of course we already have the same application in the optical/visual context - jpeg's. Although I have never heard the term psycho-optics, this would seem to be an example of it.

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    Subscriber Member Georg Baumann's Avatar
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    Re: Psyoptics: The Power of a Photograph

    Hi Arjuna,

    yeah, Fletcher/Munson phenomenon/curves, thanks to them we have EQ's. , go back to the early 30s when the term psychoacoustics was not even dreamed about as far as I remember, but audiometry was the descriptive term, wasn't it?. - I could be wrong here! -

    Psychoacoustic was applied in space flight in the early 90s, free field hearing by head phones, digital filters were used to check directional hearing and audiocinetics in microgravity, reicprocal influence of vestibular and auditory inputs for dynamic orientation.

    I like your comparison, mpeg and jpeg that is! On the one hand the increasing quest for higher perceived loudness (utterly insane in my book), on the other hand the inclusion of "art filters" (whooaaa) and other informations that are not specific to the musician/photographer in the compression process, but applied by the manufacturer instead.

    As for audio, the 192khz discussions amongst engineers speak for themselves. While Thomas Knoll is blessed with our money and can afford a thundering B&W set up, the question remains whether he can differneciate Ravel's Tzigane ( violin/piano) recordings on 192khz vs. 96 khz. I think he could!

    Hi Tim,

    will you stop putting your light under the chair?

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    Administrator Bob's Avatar
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    Re: Psyoptics: The Power of a Photograph

    I know only a little of the theory behind visual appeal.
    Certainly in some ways we are culturally adapted to perceive certain items with heightened interest. Art analysis gives us several pointers for design formulas for achieving an interesting composition.
    In painting, for example, to achieve contrast thus visual interest one places the lightest light adjacent to the darkest dark.
    Variation and asymmetry are all important too. Odd numbers of objects that vary in size are more believable than an even number of the same size.
    Repetition, seemingly to violate the principle above, is useful precisely because repetition in nature is unusual.
    Position of the focal point (near the lightest light) off center horizontally and vertically. Several rules of thumb from the golden mean to the rule of thirds. It is probably not that important that the focal point be at any specific location as long as it is not centered.
    The combination of synthetic landscapes, where the optical coordinate system of the background is at odds with the rendered subject, is an example of creating visual tension. Believable due to the reflections of the surroundings, unbelievable because of the dual coordinate systems employed. Clearly intended to create visual tension and interest.
    I struggle just trying to make nice pictures, but years of watercolor and oils have given me a formulaic hint of why what I do works or does not work. These synthetic compositions are immersing us into novel (for awhile at least) visual conundrums that are designed to create interest. Time willl tell as to their durability.
    -bob

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    Subscriber Member Georg Baumann's Avatar
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    Re: Psyoptics: The Power of a Photograph

    Good evening Bob,

    art appreciation, in particular movements, techniques, themes, or what you call tension is a desired goal, in oil or digital.

    This tension is created and perceived by aspects of contrast, color, subject, background, focus and blur, etc.

    years of watercolor and oils have given me a formulaic hint of why what I do works or does not work
    Allow me to ask, what is your conclusion?

    I am just of the phone with a friend of mine who suffered another stroke. He is a little bit like the equivalent of a german version of Scott Kelby, a Photoshop Guru since version 1.0, and a extremly nice chap! We were discussing this psyoptics thing, and he got me thinking on one particular point. We reference our experienced visual background subconsious, but what if that is not functioning anymore?

    A person that suffered a stroke might not remember in his memory certain pictures anymore by reference of emotion/smell/feel, as this area in his brain might have been literally wiped out.

    We all know, how a smell can trigger a picture, vice versa, and this functions is dependant on a complex correlation of synaptic information exchange and memory. This was his disseration subject if I remember that correct!

    It is an entire new world to explore in deed!

    When I was around 12 years I started to draw a picture onto the wall beside my piano. At this time, in fact for the rest of my life, I was very taken by native american history, and read everything I could find about it. The picture was a distant mountian scene with a beaver sitting in the front looking right at you and of course somewhat tiny against the rest of the scene, but nevertheless, majestic.

    I worked for months on this picture, and it was the only "serious" picture I ever painted in my life, but somehow, since I started photography a few years ago, I feel like painting again.

    First, I got into big trouble, " are you doing with our nicely painted white wall here?", but I stood my ground and refused them to paint over it. So it stayed there until I left my parents home when I was 16.

    If I had the skills, I could paint the picture again, right now! I still know every detail of it, I am 48 now. It is engraved in my very soul, just as an example, for so many other pictures engraved in me.

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