Entice the Eye

(© Ian Plant) The main challenge of photography is to draw the viewer’s eye into the picture, and once there, to hold interest over time. Your choice of subject matter alone typically will not be sufficient to do this. A strong composition is required to entice the eye, and keep it engaged.

This problem is of course nothing new or particular to photography, and artists over the centuries have wrestled with the same challenge. What is unique to nature photography is our approach—we cannot simply create compositions, we must first find them in the real world and then record them with our cameras. So, we must put aside simply looking for pretty scenery, and instead search for subjects that will create compositional interest and power. We must look for natural elements that, when arranged within the picture frame, will draw the viewer into the scene.

I like to look for leading elements to help encourage the eye into an image. Leading elements are lines, curves, and other shapes that typically start at the bottom or the corners of a photo and lead into the scene. A repetition of shapes or changes in color or luminosity can also help lead the eye. For example, with this image of a flooded desert canyon, the sweeping striations of the canyon walls help draw the eye into the picture frame. The transition from dark to light also acts to lead the eye, as does the use of complementary colors (blue and orange).

There are many compositional techniques for enticing the viewer’s eye, too many to discuss in this short blog post. The basic goal is to seek visual elements that draw the eye in, giving the impression of depth and three-dimensionality. If you do this successfully, the viewer will feel like they are part of the scene, not just a passive observer.

P.S. Check out the two latest ebooks on my estore, Play Fool to Catch Wise, a compilation of my favorite blog posts and articles from 2010-2011, and Great Smoky Mountains Behind the Lens by Richard Bernabe.

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3 Comments

    It is the second part of the compositional axiom you state, that of having the image hold interest over time, which I believe often gets overlooked. There are many images that first draw you in but leave no residual impact. They are shallow, visual stimulations . . . not that being so in necessarily bad . . . but they leave one ultimately unsatisfied (sort of like a one night stand.) On the other hand, an image that both draws you in and causes you to linger, evoking feelings or provoking thought, yields both the understanding of how photography can be art and a sense that taking the time to observe the image or its subject matter was meaningful or worthwhile. By the way, for me, the image you chose to illustrate your article was perfect.

    Very well said John, I feel the same way. It is funny how one’s views of a photo can change with time, for better or for worse. Some image that I don’t like initially really grow on me over time, whereas others I love at first glance fail to keep my interest for more than a few moments.

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