Give Your Viewers Some Place To Go

Give Your Viewers Some Place To Go

Singular SolaceIn photos, as in life, we like to have some place to go. Not having a direction in a photo is one of the reasons for people becoming bored of viewing photos or lackluster responses on internet sites. People can’t always put their finger on why your photo leaves them uninspired, but it may be because they aren’t sure where to go and what to see.

To help alleviate this problem, give your viewers some place to go. Not in every photo, but think of it from time to time when setting up a shot. There are a few ways you can give your viewers a place to go in your photo and I’ve listed some suggestions below.

Tight Focus and Blur

The first technique deals with a change in focus. It’s how our eyes naturally see the world, in thin, two dimensional slices at a time. This is in focus and that is out of focus. The screen you are reading this is in focus and the keyboard (or floor if you are reading this on a mobile device) is not. Couple that together with two eyes to give a three dimensional aspect to what we see and we now have a useful way to navigate our living room without smashing our shins on the coffee table.

The problem in photography comes when cameras are left to their own devices and choose for us. Many cameras will increase the aperture setting (closing down the aperture) to bring more things into focus. Most cameras ‘think’  you want a lot of things in focus. Surely the camera has it figured out for you!

But the truth is, interesting photos have few things in focus (hyperfocal techniques no withstanding) at one time. And it’s important to remember this when taking a photo. Pick one thing to be your focal point and try to make it stand out from the rest of the scene. This can be done by increasing your aperture (decreasing the f/stop number) to take advantage of a shallower depth of field. It also helps to get closer to your subject to also shallow up that depth of field.


Whether we know it or not, we are used to seeing something in focus and something not in focus. Looking at your screen, do actually notice your hands on the keyboard are not in focus? Typically, no. We know our hands are there and we don’t need them in focus by our focus should be on the screen. Do the same with your photos and give your viewers a focal point while letting the rest of the scene blur out of importance.

Prayer Wheels

Leading Lines

Leading Lines are just that; lines in your image that bring viewers to a particular point. I also like to include paths in this example because a path, or road, while not always perfectly straight, can lead viewers as well. Playing with Leading Lines can be a lot of fun because you get to move around. Pay attention to the lines in a photo, such as this one taken on a Washington State Ferry.


They day was gray and boring and there wasn’t much to look at. But there were lines everywhere. The railings, the horizon, the deck chairs. They all lead to the pilot house and I mostly wanted them in focus. So I took a position that would allow them to converge. I moved around the deck a bit until I had a nice and easy spot where two of the lines for the Rule Of Thirds converge.

Lines can also be curved as in this shot of a trail leading into the unknown distance.



One of the more simple tricks to leading your viewers is to give them space in the photo to move into. We take our periphery for granted and that plays out in photography (as well as other forms of art) in a way most of us don’t consciously understand. What I’m talking about here is the fact that as you move your head from left to right, or up and down, your brain is scanning ahead. It is why you also don’t bump into the coffee table even though it may not be in focus. Your eyes say it and your brain understood what was coming before it was in focus.

When a photo does not allow for this scan-ahead to occur, we tend to turn our nose up at the image. Not because it is horrible, but because ‘something’ isn’t quite right and we’re not sure what. Take these two images of the setting sun for instance.



The difference between the two is the position of the boat and where it is going. We all know a boat (typically) goes forward and we know which direction this one is facing. When it is just about out of the frame, we subconsciously want to know where it’s going and are slightly irked by not knowing. Mind you, this can be a good method for grabbing attention, but for making pleasing photos while you are learning photography, give some space in front of the subject for it to ‘move’ into the frame.


It’s important to remember these are only rules. And rules are made to be broken. But if you are just starting out in photography, learn to use these simple techniques first to add some instant attraction to your images, then venture out and let your artistic creativity take over your style.

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Nick March 9, 2012 03:47 am

    Great examples and photos. I can't tell you how many times I've preached the same thing about taking photos that have an obvious subject and an obvious place for the eye to go.

  • Paul February 29, 2012 02:52 am

    Nice little article, these techniques are useful when photographing the artistic detail shots at weddings which clients often love.

  • tjade February 5, 2012 03:01 pm

    Light at the end of the tunnel

  • Ray January 29, 2012 08:05 am

    I would like to add to the comments from Chris about depth of field. The benefit of a narrow DOF comes into play when the subject of the photo is limited to only a small area within the total picture and one of the objectives is to make it stand out. For most landscape photos, however, where the entire scene is important, it is usually more beneficial to have a very wide DOF and to include subjects of interest both near and far.

  • Charan January 28, 2012 08:35 am


    You have a very good blog. Really very informative. It led me to your daughter's pics. She has some beautiful pictures too. Just one thing I wanted to bring to your notice. The circular objects in this picture are neither drying fruits nor cow dungs. They are papadum instead, which is a very loved food item in India. They are made generally from some kind of dough which is then rolled into such circular shape and then dried to be stored for a whole year. Then when needed they are just roasted or fried to be eaten. Here:

  • Bill Genova January 28, 2012 02:35 am

    In the past five years I have moved from a point and shoot camera to a SLR Canon Rebel. In both cases on my journey to becoming a better photographer I continue to expand my understanding of the hardware and philosophy of taking pictures through reading Digital Photography School (DPS). The line that comes to mind is the greater the island of knowledge the longer the shoreline of wonder.
    DPS has provided me with a method of learning about taking pictures in a manner suited to my temperament. I like to learn on my own at my own speed.
    Regarding a photo blog I create one whenever I go on vacation. This past summer we did a week in Paris, a week in Provence and a week in Cannes. I created a web site that told the story of our journey day by day and then added a picture that when clicked on led to an album of what I had written about. It was created in Tripod.
    Please enjoy them.
    Again thank you DPS for your continuing education and inspiration.

  • rick stephens January 27, 2012 02:38 pm

    peter, thanks for reminding me of some things that i take for granted i'm doing without even paying attention. then i get home & figured out that i should have paid attention. it's also great that as photographers, we do not have to agree. of the 2 boat pictures, i much prefer the first one. it quite simply says 'day's ending & we're going home'.

  • The Girl Behind January 27, 2012 09:24 am

    I've always loved photographs that lead the way. One of my favourites is the middle picture on this post - a lane I often walked along in my childhood, and an invitation to follow to see where it leads.

  • m.a lapuz January 27, 2012 08:41 am

    Good article... Try to see my version.. :)

    Hope you like it...

    God bless you all..

  • Peter watts January 27, 2012 07:16 am

    A wonderfull picture i wish i could take one like that.

  • Bill Genova January 27, 2012 06:21 am

    I create a website/photoblog my trips. This tell the story day by day of my trip in copy with attached pictures. I send it to about 20 friends who share my adventure with me. They comment during and after the trip. This trip is of France that we took last summer.....

  • Patricia Pope January 27, 2012 04:16 am

    Thanks for the tips; some of them are a review as I majored in Visual Art, but haven't thought of all these helpful hints in awhile. From just taking photos of our children and places we visited to becoming increasingly interested in taking beautiful and interesting photos, I find the DPS site to be extremely helpful.

  • linus January 27, 2012 03:10 am

    An example of leading lines.......

  • Fuzzypiggy January 27, 2012 12:02 am

    You have a split-second to grab someones attention, isn't it something like about 1/8 sec? If you lose them after that, they're gone forever so you have to have something that grabs them quickly and then hand-holds them across the shot, then tries to hold them inside the frame.

    Pick up the Micheal Freeman's book The Photographer's Eye, the whole book is dedicated to the pursuit of understanding the art of grabbing the viewer and holding them in the frame. He has loads and loads of examples of how your eye travels a frame and you check those after looking at the pictures and it's frightening how good a well composed photo is and yet how obviously simply it is when it "works".

  • Bharat Justa January 26, 2012 04:47 pm

    Great article!
    I wish my cameraphone had a bigger sensor for a narrower DoF.

  • Scottc January 26, 2012 10:20 am

    This is a cool article, a creative great way to explain several different aspects of photography using one overall theme. I've never read shallow DoF explained this way, it adds to thought process for using the technique.

    This is one of my favorite "leading lines" photos.

  • MikeC366 January 26, 2012 08:29 am

    Hi Peter, I couldn't agree more with you with what you said "When it is just about out of the frame, we subconsciously want to know where it’s going and are slightly irked by not knowing."

    I want to know where the plane is going every-time I look at the shot I took here:

    Great article with sound advice.

  • ihateliver January 26, 2012 07:43 am

    Excellent article - clear, concise, logical and great examples to push the points home. Thanks, and please keep them coming !

  • Chris January 26, 2012 04:50 am

    Fine article, though I don't think your explanation of why the photos in the first section on shallow depth of field work is correct.

    We are not used to focusing on objects that are out of focus at all. When our eyes are focusing on something it expects it to be in focus!

    Look at old paintings from before when photography started to influence painting. Everything is in focus. A photographer today may want a portrait with only the face in focus and background completely blurred, but that didn't concern Leonardo when he painted the Mona Lisa with its extreme depth of field.

    What makes all of your examples in the shallow depth of field section work is that there are several very similar or identical objects arranged in a row/rows, and shallow depth of field offers a way to break up this uniformity and introduce some variety whilst still keeping the structured rhythm that the similar objects arranged in rows provides!

    Otherwise, excellent points!

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer January 26, 2012 03:58 am

    Good point about space that beginner photographers may not be aware of. During photography lessons I mention early on to my students to have the subject be entering the frame or looking into the space of the frame. Leading lines are a great personal photography project. Train tracks work well:

  • Apoorv January 26, 2012 02:58 am

    Intresting article...always good to revise basics.

  • raghavendra January 26, 2012 02:32 am

    This is fine article.
    Good thinking and nice explanation

  • raghavendra January 26, 2012 02:31 am

    This is fine article.
    How does people think like this i wonder?

  • gipukan (Rob Gipman) January 26, 2012 02:06 am like this :) Tilt'shift shot :)

  • Jean-Pierre January 26, 2012 01:42 am

    Uses focus and blur to lead your eyes to the kissing couple.

  • Dewan Demmer January 26, 2012 01:29 am

    Simple truths and I agree.
    So often lines creep into the image, and really finding ways to take advantage can help make an image really work.
    This set of images have a lines and symmetry, which I think help accentuate the main focus

  • Mridula January 26, 2012 01:19 am

    Thanks for sharing, here is one with boat that I clicked.

  • Rick January 26, 2012 01:15 am

    I thought I recognized one of these images from the Google+ #WayWednesday theme. :-)