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Leading the Eye in photography and art in general, is the art of drawing the viewer’s attention from one area of an image to another. This can be done to achieve many different effects and can really bring the photo to life before your eyes!
Why is Leading the Eye Important?
Leading the eye of your audience creates a sense of movement, excitement and narrative within the photo. This is a practise that can be hard to master at first and requires careful framing of the scene as well as the intelligent use of the features of the landscape or scenery.
As a photographer, you can use these techniques to guide your audience’s gaze towards the subject of the photo or any other feature of interest, including negative space.
Compositional Techniques that You can Use to Lead the Viewer’s Eye.
Classical techniques of composition are highly effective tools that photographers can use to lead the eye of the viewer through their photos. These techniques were originally developed by artists and sculptures in Ancient Greece and Rome and later developed by Renaissance artists such as Leonardo di Vinci. These evergreen and highly refined methods are also used by photographers and are just as powerful in photography as they are in painting and other forms of art.
Two of the most powerful compositional techniques that you can employ are the Rule of Thirds and the use of Leading Lines.
Rule of Thirds.
To make use of the rule of thirds you can mentally divide the frame into 9 sections (3×3). Once you have done this you want to place points of interest and the subject on the centrally intersecting lines. This is a technique that naturally pulls the viewer’s gaze to the points that meet on the intersections of the grid. Many digital cameras have the option of displaying a grid on the LCD screen that will not show up in the photo which you can use to help you with the rule of thirds.
In the image of a lighthouse below, the lighthouse cuts across the right hand side of the of grid with the top of it intersecting the top right hand boxes.
Another way of using the rule of the thirds is to put the subject of the photo in one of the side ‘boxes’ while making use of negative space in the others. Although it may intuitively seem that this is ‘unbalanced’ in most cases you’ll find that it works very well.
In the following example of the rule of thirds, the top part of the road intersecting a line which leads the eye towards the brightly lit end of the road. This is a fairly subtle use of the rule of thirds because it also uses leading lines to direct the eye to the subject of the image which is the ‘negative’ space of light at the right hand side. This creates a sense of mystery, movement and narrative in the photo.
Leading lines are used in photography to draw the viewer’s attention though the image towards the intended subject. This creates a natural sense of motion in the photo and is a powerful tool for photographers to employ in their work. Leading lines can be natural features of the landscape, architecture or scenery that can be used to direct the focus of your viewers.
In the following image the strong steel pipes stretching away into the distance creates a great example of leading lines in action!
Making use of leading lines is a fantastic way of creating excitement in the picture, even if it is still life! Your audience cannot help but get caught up in the photo if you make good use of leading lines by making them feel as if they are a part of the scene.
In big cities like Philadelphia, we can use parts of the cities skyline in order to lead the eye.
Use Elements of the Scenery to Lead the Eye.
There are many ways in which you can use natural features of the landscape to lead the viewer’s eye. Even simple, everyday items can be shown in a new light by using the techniques of leading lines. Drawing the eye along a fence for example, is a great way to create interest and movement in something that most people would be likely to walk past without a second thought. Showing your audience elements of the world they live in with a new perspective is an effective way to catch their attention.
Railway tracks and roads can be used to lead the viewer’s eye in your photos. These features of the modern world have a whole catalogue of underlying, subconscious meanings in people’s mind that you can use to good effect! Railway tracks speak of ‘going somewhere’, ‘new places’, the ‘mystery of the destination’ and much more. Everybody remembers a time when they were on a train and all this can come together in your audience to help you create a truly meaningful photo that is full of narrative and pathos.
In the following image we are left wondering where the people are walking to, where have they come from and who they are? All these questions make the picture more thought provoking and the tracks disappearing into the distance adds to an overall sense of wonder. Notice too that the people, who are the subject of the image, are captured in the intersection of a theoretical grid that is laid out by the rule of thirds. Combining leading lines and the rule of thirds is an excellent compositional technique that all photographers should be able to employ.
Within the city there are many opportunities to make use of leading lines and other techniques to move the attention of the viewer around the image. Roads, street lighting and shop fronts are natural choices to achieve this effect.
Leading the Viewer’s Eye is an Essential Skill to Improve Your Photography.
Not every situation calls for using leading lines, rules of thirds and natural features to guide the gaze of your audience through the image you have made however when it does, then it really does make the difference between a forgettable picture and a memorable one! Learning to incorporate these techniques into your work and having a few top quality examples in your portfolio is vital to stand out from the crowd.
Is leading the eye something you use in your photography?