By Levi Shand
Why, in a world where everyone is so determined to be different, do vectors offer a bridge across the active and intentional need to see objects in uniquely different ways?
Rudolph Arnheim, in Art and Visual Perception, 1974
Undeniably, everyone thinks that their way of seeing the world is theirs alone, and for that reason special. Superficially that is true, as no two photographers notice the exact same scenes, or have the exact same life experiences to inform their choices. Vectors offer an example of an instance where who you are makes no difference in how you see.
What is a vector?
A vector is a visual line upon which the eye is directed from a source (an “actor”) to a destination (a “goal”). Any three-dimensional object can cast a vector in a designated direction, but for our purposes as street photographers we will concentrate on vectors emitted by the human figure.
A vector may be “sent out” from one of many parts of the human form
- a gaze
- a pointing finger
- a pointing toe
- a turned head
Three Types of Vectors
Non-transactional: The actor emits a vector that is not directed at anything within the frame. This is the simplest vector to capture as a street photographer. For that reason, we will not work with it this month. Examples of this could be:
- a person or animal looking into the distance
- eye contact with the photographer
- a person or animal looking left or right off-frame
Unidirectional: The actor emits a vector which reaches its goal. This is the second-simplest form to capture. Examples in street photography:
- a person looking at something or someone
- a finger pointing at something or someone
- a street sign with an arrow pointing toward a human figure (the subject?)
Bidirectional: Two actors emit vectors simultaneously, each vector connecting with the other actor at the same time. This is a very difficult vector to capture candidly. An example would be two people looking at each other, or an animal and a person sharing a gaze.
Why practice capturing vectors?
There is much to read and much more to know about vectors than this challenge description offers. It is strongly suggested that if you are interested in this topic to read Rudolph Arnheim’s “Art and Visual Perception”. One of the reasons to practice capturing vectors is to learn to see familiar places with fresher, better-informed eyes.
If you capture a unidirectional vector, you will feel as though you have captured a scene. Knut Skjaerven has remarked that “vectors are glue that tie things together” in a composition. If you capture a bidirectional vector, that sense of unity or “scene-ness” is amplified. If a vector can unite elements on a single plane, along the x- and y-axis, a vector can also unite planes, along the z-axis. The foreground may be united with the background via a strong vector.