Reading about photography, I have now and then stumbled on recommendations to "create a path for viewer's eye", or to "lead it through the picture" without any specific guidelines how to achieve that.

How can a photographer influence where the eye lands, how it travels and where it stops on its way through the picture?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I read the subject as "How to create an eye-patch" and my first reaction was to close as off-topic and migrate to pirates.stackexchange.com \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    May 5, 2011 at 22:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MattGrum brilliant, though it may be a duplicate over there! \$\endgroup\$
    – Darko
    May 14, 2014 at 12:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ What happened to Stan? This is the kind of question I'd normally expect Stan to give a detailed and thoughtful reply to. \$\endgroup\$ May 14, 2014 at 12:57

5 Answers 5


The human eye seeks the light, and usually locates the brightest spot in the image. If there is one bright spot, that's usually the place we start looking.

There are no definitive rules in photography, and I'm not trying to say that you always need to let the subject be the "bright spot" in the image, but if you want to lead the viewer to the most important part immediately, you should make it be brighter than it's surroundings.

When we look around our eyes tend to follow lines and connected "paths". There are unlimited ways of how to create such paths, but try using "lines" in the environment. It can be tree branches, buildings, roads,...anything that seems to be connected, but not cluttered. Something with contrasts, that's easy for our eyes to identify and "follow around".

I really enjoyed Michael Freeman's book The Photographer's Eye, in which he explains this topic well.


I usually see this described as creating a "leading line". The human eye typically will read/view left to right, so typically a leading line will follow this notion and lead the viewer right to what the photographer intended to highlight in the photo.

Depending on the type of photography you can use things such as roads, trees, a fence, a models hair, the church aisle, or similar to direct your viewer to a certain area in the photo.

The leading line can give your photos a sense of depth and make it easier for the viewer to see the intended focal point.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've read a few articles where this is described (left to right, top to bottom) I wonder if it is true for left-handed people or those in other cultures where they read right to left - top to bottom. If not should an image be composed differently? (my-photography-tips.com/composition.html) \$\endgroup\$ May 4, 2011 at 20:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ As a lefty, I can say it does feel more natural (for me at least) for a lateral leading line to come from the left of the frame. Not sure about right to left readers though. Be aware that leading lines can also lead more or less straight into the frame as well, they don't necessarily have to come from one direction. \$\endgroup\$ May 4, 2011 at 20:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would argue that the typical non-Hebrew, non-Arabic, non-Mandarin eye will go from left to right. Those other cultures read in a different direction, so they could approach the image from a different direction. \$\endgroup\$
    – mmr
    May 4, 2011 at 20:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ One example is the "The Great Wave off Kanagawa". I, and possibly other people from cultures that read from left to right, see the wave as the main subject, crashing into the boats. It is said that the Japanese and other cultures that read in the opposite direction view the boats first, running into the giant waves. \$\endgroup\$
    – eruditass
    May 5, 2011 at 18:33

The human brain follows two things very well:

  1. Faces (there's a whole portion of the brain dedicated to it)
  2. Contrast (the optic nerve operates on Spatial Summation, where the nerves outside of a region that's receiving light damps, emphasizing the light).

So the first thing that people will look for is a face, and they will follow contrast. Things that look like faces will also work for point number 1, and if you want to avoid putting faces in, then contrast (or local intensity variations between pixels) will also serve, with the highest contrast areas generally acting as the starting point.

Those elements provide a place for the eye to land initially, and then the eye will follow contrast around.


The classic is just converging perspective lines, with the subject at the apex (e.g., a building at the end of a road, person at the end of a rack full of pipes, etc.)

With a little care, you can find other possibilities as well though.

enter image description here

The part I worked at was getting her head lined up so if you follow the curve of the pool from the bottom right, it leads directly to her eyes. I rather liked the cross-wise lines in the grating all pointing directly toward her as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the nice subject... less for the example itself. Does not quite work for me. \$\endgroup\$
    – ysap
    May 4, 2011 at 21:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1. After reading Lars' answer (unfortunately his pics are not available anymore), this picture seems to me more of a counterexample for the "converging perspective lines" rule, and at the same time, an example for the brightest spot in the image rule: my eyes land inevitably on the right part of the image, the legs, that are brighter and make a high contrast with their surroundings (skin tone vs blue, sharp vs unfocused water). Still, very useful photo to study these eye-paths... If any, my eyes follow the pool from the up to the bottom. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alberto
    Dec 7, 2012 at 9:43

Fibonacci spiral?


  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you elaborate, apart from the link? Dropping a link in an answer without further explanation is discouraged around here. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    May 4, 2011 at 19:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry. Just a stab in the dark. Though the information there would be of interest. I was aware of the golden section, golden mean and wondered if it somehow related to your question so I stumbled across this article. Why exactly is dropping links discouraged "around here"? \$\endgroup\$ May 4, 2011 at 19:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ If the link dies, so does the information. Its a major problem all over the internet - dead links. If you summarize the information, then provide a link - at least the "gist" of the information lives on here. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    May 4, 2011 at 19:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hm. I am confused. There are links in many post on this forum. I though "Fibonacci spiral" was the key piece of information that you could further research. This seems perfectly fine on other SE sites. \$\endgroup\$ May 4, 2011 at 19:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jakub - I'm not saying links aren't good, I'm saying links without anything else significant aren't good. Summarizing what Fibonacci spiral is and how/if its relevant is what the questioner would really want to know - not just a seemingly random word with a question mark. Dropping links without any explanation is not fine on other SE sites - it may be more prevalent, but that doesn't make it right. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    May 4, 2011 at 20:11

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