Gestalt – Ganzfeld


Ganzfeld, means “complete field” in German, is an affect where the brain seeks differential information from the senses. It notices changes. For instance, if an area has a bad odor, the brain will eventually filter out the odor and it will become bearable. This is why garlic does not bother the person eating it. Fingers detect changes in texture or temperature. Music holds the attention because of the constantly changing sounds. For most people, and therefore the brain, the majority of sensory input comes from vision throughout the day, and it is rarely static.

Imagine being in an plain evenly lit room and having translucent covers over each eye. The color does not matter as long as they are similar. There will be nothing visible in your field of view except the color of the covers. Because there is nothing to differentiate one detail from another, the brain would get tired of attempting to differentiate details and would eventually shut down your vision allowing the brain to make up its own visions. These visions can be color or tonal changes where none exist, or hallucinations accompanied by general disorientation. This reaction by the brain is called the Ganzfeld affect.

So Ganzfeld is a blank space, an homogenous field with no differentiating details. Here is an instant where the mind truly becomes boggled… by nothing. This fact leads us to understand one of the mental forces behind the eyes jumping around an image seeking details to hold onto.

This Ganzfeld Effect is the idea behind sensory deprivation chambers and other similar contrivances. It has been the subject of a number of studies and therapies in Psychology over the years. Extended periods of sensory deprivation may lead to psychosis and hallucinations since a blank field leaves the mind desperately seeking details. Short periods lead to a sense of relaxation and well-being.

What this all  comes down to is that the brain, through the eyes (and other senses), is always seeking some form of stimulus. Once it receives the stimulus it tries to make sense out of it, tries to create a logic for what is perceived. Keep this in mind as we explore this thing called Gestalt, seeking logic is what motivates the brain to find what is and isn’t important within a frame. It is also this logic that informs the elements and principles we will cover as we move forward in this exploration of Composition.

Next Time: Figure & Ground


Lens, Light and Composition is presented in a structured form with occasional asides. It is not a semi-random presentation of information. To get the greatest benefit from this blog it is advised that you start at the beginning of the table of contents, and work your way down from there. Thanks for reading.