Seven ways to compose images and learn to direct the viewer’s gaze in a photograph

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Creating a good composition is undoubtedly a fundamental issue for any photographer. Moreover, it is surely the most important part of the training of a newbie (even more than the assimilation of the technique). However, although we make a series of conscious decisions about the disposition of the objects, we rarely stop to think about how to influence the viewer’s look in our photographs.

That is, we attach great importance to the balance or harmony of the elements included in the scene and we do not usually stop to reflect on how we can “catch” the viewer and guide their eye in a natural way through the image. The idea, of course, is to ensure that the photograph is read in a certain way and its different elements interpreted in a certain order , or at least that the viewer quickly directs his gaze towards the main element of the photo.

Seven ways to compose images and learn to direct the viewer's gaze in a photograph
Photo of Eldon Vince Isidro

This is a very common tactic in classical painting, and yet it is not so common in photography. Logically, this is influenced by many reasons, such as that the photographic act is often very fast , which happens in an instant without giving time to think about how to direct the viewer’s gaze within the image in a more or less controlled manner.

Let’s not say whether we talk about sports photography or even street photo, where speed is the crucial thing and it is usually very complicated to consciously compose photos thinking about this subject. However, in landscape photography , still lifes or even portrait we should take it into account and use some of the techniques that we tell you below .

Includes a vanishing point

Seven ways to compose images and learn to direct the viewer's gaze in a photograph
Photo of Juhasz Imre

The fastest and most direct way is surely to take advantage of the perspective and make the gaze go quickly to where we want to create a vanishing point in it. As we tell you in this article on the subject , this resource is based on including in the image an “imaginary point” to which two or more lines seem to converge, and is achieved above all by using wide-angle lenses .

Thanks to this, we will not only direct our gaze in a very effective and natural way, but we will also be able to create a strong sense of depthand three-dimensionality, something that will add value to make the photo more realistic.

Includes a brighter area

Seven ways to compose images and learn to direct the viewer's gaze in a photograph
Photo of Krivec Ales

Another fairly simple technique that can help direct the eye of the viewer is to include some area in the image that stands out from the rest for its brilliance . The human eye is attracted naturally by the brightest elements, so that if we do this we will achieve their attention almost automatically.

However, it is important to remember that the key to this technique is not to go overboard , and to make the transition between this area that stands out more and the rest as gradual as possible. If not, or if we include small bright areas in the middle of darker shades, the effect achieved will not be as effective (or natural).

Take advantage of the rules of composition

Seven ways to compose images and learn to direct the viewer's gaze in a photograph
Photo of Ajay Goel

Starting with the hack rule of the thirds , which is another technique that can be very useful when it comes to directing the eye through the image. And, as you know, the conjunction of the imaginary lines on which this rule is based creates strong points in which to place elements that we want to have greater visibility.

We also have the golden ratio , which as you know is based on a mathematical calculation and in art is materialized through a spiral shape, similar to that in the shells of snails. This resource has also been widely used in classical painting, and of course can be applied in photography, although doing so requires a lot of care for the composition, so it would only be applicable in “very thoughtful shots”.

Use frames in the image

Seven ways to compose images and learn to direct the viewer's gaze in a photograph
Photo of C Chapman

Another resource to focus and guide the viewer’s gaze is to use frames in the photographs . Again it is a fairly simple technique to use and it has an almost automatic effect if used well.

Above all, it is a powerful way of directing the viewer towards the main element of photography, but it also has other additional functions : It helps to create depth, to organize the elements and to give context to an image. Therefore, it is certainly a very valid resource for our purposes.

Enter axes of light

Seven ways to compose images and learn to direct the viewer's gaze in a photograph
Photo of Theo Crazzolara

We can call this a technique that consists in including rays of light in the photograph in order to direct the viewers in the correct direction. This resource is only given in very specific conditions, because it is clear that the rays of light will not always be available, but if we find them they can be a very useful tool to point out a direction or guide the look towards a specific object within a Photography.

As you can imagine, the most propitious moment for this type of resource are the sunsets and sunrises , when the rays of the sun arrive diagonally creating a very suggestive atmosphere to photograph, but they can also be achieved in other situations (as in the dense forest of the photo) and even with artificial light.

Use the blur

Seven ways to compose images and learn to direct the viewer's gaze in a photograph
Photo of Harpal Singh

Taking advantage of the defocus , through the control of depth of field , is another method to guide the viewer’s eye. The result may not be as natural as in the case of other techniques that we are telling you (after all, our eye focuses our entire field of vision naturally and automatically), but it is very effective and also helps create depth.

And it is to show an image in which there is only one clear area, usually in the center of the plane (with a blurred part in the foreground and in the background) is a definite way to attract a viewer towards a very specific element or area of an image.

Mix all the above

Seven ways to compose images and learn to direct the viewer's gaze in a photograph
Photo of Björn Bechstein

Of course, we can always use two or more of the techniques that we have explained to you to achieve even a greater effect. For example, the rule of thirds is very easy to implement and therefore can be combined with any of the other resources quickly.

Because it is true that there will not always be time to think about how to use these techniques, but it is useful to keep them in mind and practice them whenever possible, so that it is easier to put them into practice intuitively. Thanks to all this, it will be much easier for us to direct our gaze through the image , something that is certainly not an exact science but it can be propitiated with an adequate composition following the advice we have given you.

Cover photo | Björn Bechstein

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