If you take photos of people, then you take photos with eye lines, so it’s important to understand the effect that they have over how we view photos. If you’ve read up on visual weight before, then you should 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, as well as producing tension and other photographic elements.
When we say eye-lines, we’re talking about the implied lines that are produced when we follow a persons line of sight. These lines are similar to horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines and can be used to make up other elements such as dynamic tension and triangles. Our eyes are naturally drawn to the face, and the eye in particular, because that’s what we’ve done our whole lives when we interact with people. A face is about as strong of a visual weight that you can include in a photo, so our eyes are naturally drawn there first, and then the eye-lines direct our attention next.
It’s natural curiosity to want to follow the eyes, because as a viewer, we want to know if we share the same interest in whatever has taken their attention, and we 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 because you can use them to great affect, but if they’re used poorly, or left unused, then the affect can be detrimental to photo.
The affects vary depending on where the eyes are looking, with one of the strongest being when the eyes are looking straight into the camera. When an image like this is viewed, we’re forced to focus on the eyes, and we’re not directed to explore 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 and the eyes are one of the strongest ways of showing emotion – this is one of the reasons that we’re so attracted to them.
When the subject is looking elsewhere in the frame, you’ll notice that you spend less time looking at them because they tell you less about the subject. What’s more important here, is where exactly the subject is looking as we may want to explore that area too. It’s up to you to decide whether you want the model to be the subject, or where they’re looking as the true point of interest. The photo below doesn’t use the eye-line to make up a photographic element, nor does it point you towards anything particularly interesting, so this results in a feeling of unresolved tension and ambiguity, which is another great technique at your disposal.
I’ve mentioned it a couple times so far, but not actually shown you how to do it, and that’s using the eye-lines as a photographic element. In my photo below, I’ve used the eye-line of the model to reach the end of the breakwater, which then went back down to the end of her arm, and back up to her face. This has created a triangle and focused your direction onto the model’s body because of the order 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, and in the same vain, you’re choosing where you want it to end too.
When there’s conflicting eye-lines in a photo, you can use selective focus to choose the true subject in the photo. This works in two ways; you’re making it clear who you want to attention to be on, and you’re encouraging to 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 viewers attention onto the girl on the right.
When you have more than one set of eyes in a photo, and they’re looking at each other, then you create a linear back and forth motion between the two subjects. The more interesting the facial expression is on each subject, the better this works, as you can see by the photo below. The creates an equal balance of importance between the two subjects, and you can then use other elements to focus the viewers attention. The lighting and facial expression on the right, leads me to spend more time looking at that subject.
When the eyes are covered in a photo, like with a pair of sunglasses, then it’s up to us to decide where we think the eyes are looking. The affect of the eye-lines is lessened, but still present as we can take a lot of information from the body language of the subject. In my photo below, you can tell still tell the direction that the subject is looking in, but it’s less important because it’s out of the frame and covered up by the glasses.
When there’s multiple eye-lines in a photo, and they’re looking all over frame, then we tend to look at these photos for longer as we’re trying to decide what everyone is finding so important. No one in the photo below is looking in the same place, which is unusual for a group of people who aren’t moving, so 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 to them, and introduce an element of dynamic tension at the same time, as it starts to appear unresolved.
When it comes to taking good photos of people, a lot of it 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, and I knew this would blur the background. I didn’t want the photo to be posed though, as my style is much more candid, so I simply raised the camera and focused, which made my subject notice and turn towards me. The end result was 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.