Elements of Visual Perception

There are five (5) elements of visual perception. However, as you read, remember that although we are studying each element as a separate individual entity, they are part of a greater whole.

1. Line or Edge

Very few lines exist in nature. There are however, edge, outline or contour (all meaning roughly the same thing). Lines of flow, visual movement, and rhythm are often invisible to the eye but can be "seen" nonetheless. Lines have certain built-in feelings and associations... Most of us can find adjectives to describe various kinds of line; when we do, these words suggest that some kind of meaning resides in the lines.

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2. Shape

Shape is an area that stands out from the space next to it or around it because of a defined boundary or because of a difference of value, color, or texture.

Shapes contain certain meanings within themselves, some readily recognizable, others more complex and less clear. Some common meanings ascribable to squares, for instance, are: perfection, stability, solidity, symmetry, self-reliance, and monotony. Every visual experience is embedded in a context of space and time. Just as the appearance of objects is influenced by that of neighboring objects in space, so also is it influenced by sights that preceded it in time.

Squares

The dots within the squares illustrate:

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3. Color

Color is the visual response to the wavelengths of sunlight identified as red, green, blue, etc.; having the physical properties of hue, intensity (or saturation), and value. Color perception seems to involve the one hundred million rods and six and a half million cones in the retina at the back of the eye.

We are able to hear a single tone, but we almost never (without special devices) see a single color unconnected and unrelated to other colors. Colors present themselves in continuous flux, constantly related to changing neighbors and changing conditions. In no reliable sense can we speak of color "as it really is"; it is always determined by its context. The same color in two different contexts is not the same color. This means that the identity of a color does not reside in the color itself, but is established by relation.

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4. Value

Value is the relative degree of light and dark. There are several types of light:

Light is required for the eyes to observe shape, color, space, and movement; but light is more than just the physical cause of what we see.

The scale below shows a gradation from dark to light.

Value Scale

Each rectangle contains a single color, yet the eye makes it appear to change value from the left side to the right side.

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5. Texture

Texture is the surface character of a material that can be experienced through touch or the illusion of touch. The illusion of touch can be experienced visually. Light and shadow patterns on an object define its texture. So, visual texture really amounts to exploring light and shadow, value and contrasts. Physical touch can be experienced in the following ways:

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Concentrate on using the five elements of visual perception whenever you can. Through practice it will be possible to see more than you saw before.

How can you use this knowledge in the art of camouflage? Can you see how you might be better able to hide from the untrained eye? Can you determine which colors/values/patterns might be the hardest to see in specific locations? Can you see that standard camouflage patterns can be picked out easily? What visual methods do the animals use to escape detection?