November 01, 2010 — Continuity
Every screenwriter needs to create it. Every storyboard needs to interpret it. Every director needs to guide it. Every editor needs to refine it. And if you’re a still photographer, you may be called on to do all of these things.
Continuity lies at the heart of storytelling. The types of images selected and the transitions made between images presented in groups can be powerful tools for visual communication. Sequences can provide useful comparisons and contrasts between separate images and their contents. They set a pace and rhythm for looking. Carefully orchestrated, they can create the illusion of moving in time, forward or backward, linearly or non-linearly. They can be used in extremely creative ways. The best sequences make images clearer, more meaningful and more moving.
Photographers can use continuity to guide and structure initial explorations on site; use a storyboard as a checklist to make sure no angle goes uncovered. Photographers can use continuity to find missing gaps or resolve challenging transitions in ongoing projects; update a storyboard and find out what you’ve got too much of and what you don’t have enough of or find bridges to connect disparate images. Photographers can use continuity to edit, sequence and present existing work more effectively, or fine-tune a story in sophisticated and compelling ways—there are many possible solutions.
There are many classic strategies for sequencing images and creating transitions between them.
Persistence of any common element between two pictures helps strengthen continuity. The same character/object or environment between images instantly creates a connection between them. Viewers search for significant changes between images presented together and the significance of the changes.
Move up and down, side to side or all around. By sequencing related images with different angles of view of the same character(s) or from similar environments, you create a stronger sense of character or place. Either one or the other, or both will seem more three-dimensional.
Shifts in perspective or180 degrees are generally avoided in motion pictures and sequential art. When this happens, the change in perspective is so dramatically different between two images that it often disrupts continuity.
Move in and out. Get closer and farther away. Here’s a common transition; long range establishing shot displaying the general context of an impending drama, medium range shot generally identifying a character in that environment, close up designed to help the viewer get to know the character individually, an extreme close-up identifies a significant detail of the character, giving them complexity and depth.
The impression of the passage of time can be created by sequencing images in color progressions; from light to dark or dark to light; from warm to cool or cool to warm; from saturated to desaturated or desaturated to saturated. Fades can also be created by varying focus. This can work either once in a single sequence or multiple times throughout a single sequence, which has the potential to create subsequences.
You can create smaller sequences within a larger sequence. Think of these sequences as scenes in a movie or chapters in a book. The number of images included in a sequence affects the implied duration of time. Shorter sequences seem to move more rapidly, while longer sequences seem to move more slowly. It simply takes longer to look at a lot of images than it does a few. The quality of time passed can also be impacted by the types of transitions made. If you use the same types of transitions repeatedly, a sequence slows. On the other hand, if you vary the types of transitions you use, a sequence will speed up. Similarity feels calm; at its extreme it can seem repetitive and boring. Variety feels energetic; at its extreme it can seem chaotic and overwhelming.
If there is no persistence of elements between two images, a hard cut is created. This is doubly true if there is a significant stylistic difference between the two. Hard cuts create dramatic transitions, introducing new characters or moving the viewer to different environments and/or moments in time. They’re best used for contrast. They’re excellent for delineating subsequences.
The vehicle chosen to deliver image sequences limits or expands a viewer’s ability to interact with them, enabling speeding up or slowing down, pausing, repeating, and skipping; moving from more to less interactive exhibitions, books, prints, slideshows. As a vehicle becomes less interactive, the types of transitions made become even more important as they are comparatively fixed and unchangeable.
Use Only For Effect
Transitions are powerful things. Avoid dramatic transitions when they don’t advance the story or message of an image sequence. Transitions should be used for effect. If they are not, they quickly lose their effectiveness. Haphazard transitions can create confusion rather than enhance meaning. As a rule (with exceptions), avoid repetitive rapid alternations, orientation (horizontal or vertical), position of horizon line, range, palette and other stylistic devices. In general, group like images together and create smooth transitions between them, using dramatic transitions only for effect to make a point or pick up the pace at appropriate intervals.
Include continuity in your work and you’ll find you’ll be able to solve many more visual challenges in many more ways, and make the reception of your work more effective and powerfully felt. Once you understand what the many possibilities are and how they work, you can be extremely creative with them. Some artists have even been celebrated more for their use of continuity than their singular images. Continuity is so powerful that it can be an art in and of itself.
John Paul Caponigro, is an internationally respected environmental artist, author of Adobe Photoshop Master Class and the DVD series R/Evolution, and a member of the Photoshop Hall of Fame, Canon Explorers of Light, and Epson Stylus Pros. A highly sought after lecturer, he offers an array of workshops throughout the year. Get over 200 free lessons on this and other related topics and his free enews Insights at www.johnpaulcaponigro.com.