Where is Your Subject Looking and Why Does it Matter?

Where is Your Subject Looking and Why Does it Matter?

Portrait-2When posing a portrait subject, two important questions to ask yourself include:

  • 1. ‘where are they looking?’
  • 2. ‘what impact does this have on the shot?’

Where your subject is looking can have a real impact upon your image and how those looking at your image view it.

In many instances your subjects eyes determines where the viewer of your image looks.

Here are a few examples:

  • two people looking at each other – draws your viewer into ‘relationship’
  • a child holding out a plate with a chocolate cake but looking at the camera gives a feeling of invitation – the child becomes the focus
  • a child holding out a plate of chocolate cake and looking at the cake can give a sense of ‘desire’ – the cake become the focus
  • Looking outside the frame can leave the viewer wondering what they’re looking at?

There’s no right or wrong but each option can have consequences (good and bad) on the shot.

Here are a couple of considerations to keep in mind when making a decision on how to pose your subject:

Looking Away from the Camera

By AP Photographie ?

  • If your subject is looking at something other than the camera viewers will naturally want to see what it is. You then have two choices – either to show them or not hide the object of their gaze.
  • If the object is within the frame this will often create a focal point for your shots (example – in the picture of the ‘bubble boy’ above).
  • If the subject looks outside the frame it can create either tension or intrigue. This can either spoil or make the shot!

Looking Directly At the Camera

By Giorgio Quattrone

  • If your subject is looking directly at the camera it’s hard not to look at them – they become the focal point
  • Sometimes when a subject looks directly at the camera it can create discomfort or tension for the viewer of the image – it can be a very strong and confronting pose. This is not necessarily bad – in fact it can really make the shot quite powerful – but it is something to be aware of.

The direction that your subject looks when being photographed can have a profound impact upon an image so give it careful consideration. Many different poses can work and will alter the mood and focal point of the image considerably.

The key is to know what you’re wanting to achieve and to experiment with different set ups to get those results.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Rita January 19, 2012 11:21 pm

    Hi there!
    Thank you for so insightful articles.
    I'm about to have my first hired portrait shoot for an enterpreneur, so I have lots of questions, but I don't want to do it all in corporate style portraits.
    A location/environmental approach seems more suitable. Great advice there too!

    I welcome any advice/suggestions.
    All ze best.
    Gear - 50MM f/1.8 and 24-70MM f2.8

  • Ed Letts November 30, 2011 03:54 am

    I usually prefer my subject not looking at the camera.
    Sometimes they are not looking at all


  • focal50 February 16, 2011 09:22 pm

    Thanks a lot..this is very helpful for me....

    Hope this shot works..

  • aisha August 28, 2010 05:29 am

    i never thought of it that way before. almost all the photos i have seen the person is looking at you. now i can have some fun trying this out

    - thanks

  • Headshot NYC April 19, 2010 02:36 pm

    It's a trusting actor that will choose a headshot where they're not looking into the camera: http://chiamessina.com/actor-headshots/

  • Booker November 14, 2009 02:13 am

    I think another component to this is how the camera is oriented to the subject.

    If you're level with the face, then it's more natural to have the eyes at the camera. If you're above to below, well, it depends. That shot of somebody looking up, either with the cam in front or them leaning back, is pretty engaging, usually with a really narrow DOF centered right on the eyeballs. Then again if the person is awkwarding looking down at the camera, chubbing up their neck, well, that probably won't work too well.

    Same thing goes for side-to-side, or having the subject well into the right or left 1/3s of the image. If they're way to the side and looking at the camera it could create something interesting, but more often than not it leads to nowhere once your eyes see them looking back at you. On the other hand, a face on the far right looking towards the left (like bubble boy) creates movement.

  • Jennifer Moore September 23, 2009 06:53 am

    I find that I tend to prefer to photograph people not looking into the camera. I prefer the air of mystery that creates.

    Then again, my interest, in terms of human sujbects, is more fashion/commercial and less portraiture.

  • mrsrobinson July 31, 2009 04:32 am

    All types of portraits can be powerful, but there is just something about looking directly into someone's eyes in a portrait that gets me every time.

  • photo-on-head101 March 7, 2009 05:40 pm

    thanks some gret tips, i have to say that oyounger childern are a joy to photograph , they have such interesting face when they are focused on one thing and not the camrea . the most rewarding shots are the ones of them that didnt know you took captchering their moment joy is what i like :)

  • B P Maiti March 5, 2009 08:24 pm

    Thought provoking and educative.

  • james mason January 17, 2009 04:33 am

    agree completely. where the subject is looking can completely change the feel of a shot

  • Simone waight February 1, 2008 04:03 am





  • Jana February 1, 2008 02:50 am

    Thank you! This was of GREAT help!

  • Terry February 1, 2008 12:12 am

    Last week, amidst all the preparations for my wedding, I was with a group of friends who were all working together on various little projects. One was making some minor dress alterations, one was working on luminaries, etc. One of the bride's nieces was with us, and I saw her observing the scene. I composed the shot and quietly asked her to look at me.

    Her gaze makes her the focus of the shot, but it wasn't until I read this post that I understand why I did that or why it worked. At the time it simply seemed like the thing to do.

  • Louella January 31, 2008 01:32 am

    This is something I always knew intuitively, but having read it now gives it a new sense of importance... Thanks for sharing.

    By the way, I love the picture of the boy looking at the bubble!

  • Cherie January 30, 2008 03:49 am

    I generally shoot both ways. Although, I have to admit I am a fan of the intense look you get when the subject is looking straight at the camera.

  • Michael Morbius January 29, 2008 11:13 pm

    Thanks! Just when I thought I'm gonna pack it in and give up these kind of tips truly helps!

  • Douglas Fletcher January 29, 2008 10:11 pm

    Thanks. I might even be on the right track with this photography thing.

  • Joey Rico January 29, 2008 06:13 pm

    nice article!!!!! specially when taking action shot... the eyes tells you where the subject is going!!!!!!

    like these ones:




  • Chandamama January 29, 2008 01:58 pm

    Nice thoughts to learn. Will keep an 'eye' when next time composing the shot

  • Michael S January 29, 2008 11:33 am

    Very useful information. I'm always glad to read good advice like you've given here. Keep up the good work.

  • Lilia January 29, 2008 09:32 am

    seems like dejavu to me.

  • Cody January 29, 2008 05:34 am

    Great article! Many helpful tips!

  • Cody January 29, 2008 05:33 am

    Interesting article! It all makes sense, now that I read it, but I never would have thought about some of the things mentioned!

  • Pete Langlois January 29, 2008 01:54 am

    Depending on the situation I've used all three types of poses. Good tips.

  • AC January 29, 2008 01:16 am

    Good stuff. I generally tend to follow the "look directly into the camera" approach. But I will try to experiment combining this and the shoulders article for more interesting snaps. My friends are going to hate me! :)

  • Klaidas January 28, 2008 11:40 pm

    I usually tend to ask subjects not to look directly - it gives the viewer more of a feeling of a natural shot.
    Though there are some pictures where the eyes are looking directly at the viewer, but those are the only ones where eyes are the main focal point.

  • photonovice January 28, 2008 10:31 pm

    This was very useful for me. Thanks a lot.