Learning To Love Layers

April 30, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

LayersLayers Ok, I love layers! I'm not talking about the Photoshop Layers feature, although that is great and how most of us think of "layers", but I mean the visual layers that images can provide. Like music with many tones and chord changes, multiple instruments building a beautiful soundscape, images can give us a similar, visual experience.

I've often said that what I'd like to accomplish with my photographs is the visual equivalent of music. Sometimes, the more layers built into a photograph gives you more ways to "read" an image, and in turn makes you want to spend more time looking and discovering. Layers seem to let you look deeper into an image, rather than simply scrolling past the way we do with so many photos. 

So how do you do that in a single still image? By training your eye to first notice layers in your everyday world. Torn billboards or wall posters showing other posters underneath. The reflections of things or people in a window or puddle, for examples. When you look at a scene, our eyes naturally focus on one or two things, but our vision sees other elements in our field of view. Naturally they are the out-of-focus elements until we shift our attention to them, and our vision quickly adjusts to the new focus. Cameras and lenses let us pull an incredible focus that the eye can't manage on its own.

Torn Beautiful (Homage To Picasso And Braque)Torn Beautiful (Homage To Picasso And Braque) Lenses and sensors let us focus far deeper and wider than is normal. That, plus the ability to look at a still image for a length of time, to sit with it, gives us the opportunity to explore nuances of layers, and subtlety of meanings that even motion/video doesn't allow. Images with layers don't need to be complex either.

Street Glyph #1 :: AtlantaStreet Glyph #1 :: Atlanta All you need to do is start noticing the layers of visual interest all around you, look at the interplay of elements, of the quality of light and shadows and how they all add to a more nuanced, intiguing image. Train your eyes to see deeper and over time, you will see patterns, relationships, and things that overlap and layer upon one another, and influence one another, just like life does. How you frame a composition, where you select to focus on, how you choose to place the relationship of elements in your photograph, all factor into the depth of your vision.

Learning to love layers and exploring what they can bring to your images will give you a more powerful way of expressing your creativity and the language of photography.   


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