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How to Use Eye-Lines to Influence Your Viewers – Photography Composition (2019)

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Related course: Simply Stunning Landscapes

If you take photos of people, you’re taking photos with eye lines. It’s important to understand the effect that these have on how we view photos.

If you’ve read up on visual weight before, you understand the effect that having a face in a photo has. But there’s much more to it than that.

Eye-lines have the ability to focus our attention on another part of the photo. They also produce tension and other photographic elements.

Eye-Lines

When we say eye-lines, we’re talking about the implied lines produced when we follow a person’s line of sight.
These lines are similar to horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines. You can use them to make up other elements such as dynamic tension and triangles. Our eyes are naturally drawn to the face – the eye in particular – because that’s what we do when we interact with people.
A face is about the strongest visual weight that you can include in a photo. Our eyes are naturally drawn there first and then the eye-lines direct our attention.
Photo of a man holding his head with his hand and looking up
It’s natural curiosity to want to follow the eyes. As a viewer, we want to know if we share the same interest in whatever has taken their attention.
We also want to be able to relate to the subject to understand the photo or piece of art better. This makes the eye-lines an important part of the structure of the image. You can use them to great effect. If they’re used poorly, or left unused, the effect can be detrimental to photo.
Photo of a DJ in blue light looking at his equipment
The affects vary depending on where the eyes are looking, with one of the strongest being when the eyes are looking directly into the camera.
When we see an image like this, we focus on the eyes and don’t explore the rest of the photo as much.
Have a look at the photo below where the model is looking straight into the lens of the camera. Her eyes look quite dramatic and carry a great deal of emotion.
Human faces are very expressive. The eyes are one of the strongest means by which to show emotion. This is one of the reasons they attract our attention.
Photo of a young woman in the field of yellow flowers looking into the camera
When the subject is looking elsewhere in the frame, you’ll notice that you spend less time looking at them. This is because you can learn less about the subject from them.
What’s more important here is where exactly the subject is looking. We may want to explore that area too. It’s up to you to decide whether you want the model, or where they’re looking to be the subject.
The photo below doesn’t use the eye-line to make up a photographic element. Nor does it point you towards anything particularly interesting, resulting in a feeling of unresolved tension and ambiguity. This is another great technique at your disposal.
Photo of a young woman in the field of yellow flowers looking down
I’ve mentioned it a couple of times so far but haven’t actually shown you how to do it. Here’s how to use the eye-line as a photographic element.
In my photo below, I’ve used the eye-line of the model to reach the end of the breakwater. This extends back down to the end of her arm. And from that point you’re led back up to her face.
This has created a triangle and focused your direction onto the model’s body because of the order in which you followed the lines.
The great thing about using an eye-line as one of the lines is that you can choose where you want to triangle to start. In the same vein, you’re choosing where you want it to end, too.
Photo of a young woman sitting on a rock on a beach looking away from the camera
When there are conflicting eye-lines in a photo, you can use selective focus to choose the true subject.
This works in two ways. You’re making it clear who you want to attention to be on, and you’re encouraging the viewer to explore the areas which they think are less important.
I wanted to use the eye-line and look of disapproval of the girl on the left to focus the viewer’s attention onto the girl on the right.
Photo of a couple and a young woman looking at them
When you have more than one set of eyes in a photo and they’re looking at one another, you create a linear back and forth motion between the two subjects.
The more interesting the facial expression on each subject, the better this works, as you can see in the photo below.
This creates an equal balance of importance between the two subjects. You can then use other elements to focus the viewer’s attention. The lighting and facial expression on the right leads me to spend more time looking at that subject.
Photo of two men looking at each other in a bar
When the eyes are covered in a photo, like with a pair of sunglasses, it’s up to us to decide where we think the eyes are looking.
The effect of the eye-lines is decreased but still present. We can take a lot of information from the body language of the subject.
In my photo below, you can still tell which direction the subject is looking in. But this becomes a less important feature because it’s out of the frame and covered up by the glasses.
Photo of a topless man with arms covered in tattoos in sunglasses inside a merch tent
When there are multiple eye-lines in a photo and they’re looking all over the frame, we tend to observe the image for longer. We’re trying to decide what everyone is finding so important.
No one in the photo below is looking in the same place. This is unusual for a group of people who aren’t moving. Your eyes move around the frame, starting with the eyes that you can see best, on the girl on the right.
All of these lines have a different direction and introduce an element of dynamic tension. It starts to appear unresolved.
Photo of several people sitting outside in the dark
When it comes to taking good photos of people, a lot comes down to anticipation and knowing how you want the photo to come out.
When I took the photo below, I wanted the subject to be the main focus because I as shooting at a very wide aperture, which I knew would blur the background.
I didn’t want to pose my photo as my style is much more candid, so I simply raised the camera and focused. This made my subject notice and turn towards me. The end result is a very natural looking photo with the visual weight in all the right places.
It’s just a case of being prepared and having a rough idea of the end result you’re looking for in your head.
Photo of a young man in a yellow tshirt at some kind of a festival looking into teh camera

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5 comments
  1. An interesting and such a strong element of photographic composition illustrated in very easy to understand manner.
    Before reading this post I never thought that implied eye-lines can be as strong an element as actual lines/leading in a photograph.
    I must say, the images included in the post, below each paragraph were just perfect to illustrate the concept discussed.
    Thanks.!

Comments are closed.
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