Take a look at this photo and remember what your initial thoughts are:
Where was the first place you looked in the photo? What about the second?
Some of the more interesting photos (and artwork in general) moves your view around the image, and often brings you back for more.
When you take a photo, you know what you’re looking at and what is most important, but this doesn’t always come through in your picture, unless you make a concerted effort to help the viewer see the same thing. Luckily, as a photographer you have more than a few tricks to lead your viewers in your photos.
The first technique is to simply point the way. As humans, we like lines that go somewhere and we tend to follow them. A trail, a road, repeating patterns; they are all fodder for the technique of leading lines.
Leading lines, when stretched far, can also give your image greater depth by taking viewers into your scene. The lines need not be straight. They can be as meandering as a forest path.
Non-traditionally, I consider a repeating pattern, moving in a particular direction, to be a form of leading line. Such as with this line of bridge braces.
Selective focus seems so simple, but can be tricky if you haven’t mastered the use of aperture in your photography. Selective focus is also useful when you have a subject far on the edge of your photo. By habit we tend to look at the middle of a scene first and it’s quite easy to use selective focus to move your viewers to the edge, and the main subject.
It’s also another way to help your viewers ignore the distractions in the scene and find the main subject.
There is a great article here: How to Use Leading Lines for Better Compositions by Anne McKinnell, that expands on this topic.
We’ve all seen this technique that became quite popular many years ago.
You might have just cringed or you might have liked the technique, but there is no doubting where you looked in the photo.
But color need not be a single instance amongst black and white. Simply having a splash of color in a fairly monotone scene helps move the viewer to your main subject.
Something or someone going against the grain also brings focus and attention to that point.
It can also be a contrast in colors or patterns.
Or it can be a juxtaposition that is the contrast; old and new, youth and elders, fast and slow, etc…
Eyes are an easy way to draw focus. So easy, it almost seems like cheating. We naturally connect with eyes, be they human or animal. We can look around a scene and find eyes faster than most objects.
Use that to your advantage!
Eyes can also be used to point a way. I have often stated that we don’t like eyes looking off the edge of the photo because we want to know what the person is looking at. But eyes looking toward the middle of an image invite exploration.
Panning blur is a simple technique to freeze action on your subject, while letting the rest of the image blur. This is a type of selective focus, when we get right down to it, but used in a unique way.
The technique not only leads viewers directly to the main subject as it is the only thing in focus, but also has them looking back where the subject came from, and asking why is there movement.
For more on this technique, check out: Mastering Panning – Photographing Moving Subjects.
It can also be used when inside a moving object to emphasize speed, while also giving focus to the stationary objects of interest.
Going Into Your Photo
Arches, doorways, tunnels…these are all things that naturally make us want to go “into” a photo. We want to progress from the outside in. Craft your images by having more than one layer, in a three dimensional sense.
Postcard shots are certainly a fine use of a digital camera. They capture a whole scene and make things static. But if you want to move your viewers around your images and have them coming back for more, think about how you are composing your photos.