Usually, when composing I choose if placing the subject on one side or the other depending on the subject itself, the background or other subjective or practical reasons.

But abstracting out from those, and thinking to psychological and maybe cultural aspects: does the choice of one side or the other affect the way a picture is perceived? Does it have anything to do with lateralization of the brain?

  • 1
    It has nothing to do with the lateralization of the brain for sure! :-)
    – TFuto
    May 14, 2014 at 12:41
  • I on occasion flip my images left for right to see what difference makes. To me the perceived difference can be substantial, and sometimes surprisingly so, but there is no guarantee that others perceive the same difference. May 15, 2014 at 22:01
  • Related but different. I recently posted a composite photo of two images on facebook. Given two images A & B I could have placed them AB or BA. The time flow was from A to B suggesting arrangement AB but B was taken spatially just to the left of A so the spatial ordering was BA. I chose BA. || A cute sequence, and also a comment on photographers :-) . Almost worth a click. May 18, 2014 at 23:06

3 Answers 3


Yes, left and right do matter.

A lot of people claim that (at least in cultures with left-to-right writing direction) pictures where the "flow" of the picture is left-to-right (subject looking, pointing or moving to the right) feels more natural and peaceful while right-to-left creates more tension.

So if you want a picture of a girl looking peacefully into the future you should have her at the left side looking right but if you want a girl thinking about difficult future you should have her on the right looking left (if you want to show uncertainty you should have her on the left looking left, but that's a different composition technique).

If you look at pictures around you you can see most of them flow from left to right.

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    Do you have some references for this? Is it entirely cultural?
    – mattdm
    May 14, 2014 at 11:29
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    LTR readers indoctrinated to start looking at the left top, and RTL readers are indoctrinated to start looking at right top. This is more affected by the reading system than base culture. @Nir is right about "natural feeling" and "tension" - basically if the visual flow coincides with your reading style, it is natural. If it is the reverse, you jump back and look in staggered sweeps. For an LTR person, the future is to the right (that is were the end of the book is, no kidding!). And for an RTL person, it is to the left, so you should compose accordingly (or in disaccord if you want that).
    – TFuto
    May 14, 2014 at 12:34
  • @mattdm - there is good research that show people scan pictures in reading direction but I can't find any credible scientific study about the feeling difference of LTR vs. RTL images
    – Nir
    May 14, 2014 at 13:47
  • Does this mean that photos targeted at top to bottom script users should have people lying face down if peaceful and face up to indicate tension. And the opposite for BTT text users? [·] <- non printing smiley character. May 15, 2014 at 21:59
  • @RussellMcMahon - you made me laugh - but I'm going to answer your comment seriously - I wrote only about LTR language audience, I suspect (but don't have anything to back it up so I didn't write it) that the reverse isn't true for RTL/vertical languages - but if it does - you can have the subject look slightly down/up or look/move toward one top/bottom corners
    – Nir
    May 18, 2014 at 12:54

I've found the exact opposite of the other responder, especially in terms of photos of moving things (aircraft, ships, cars, birds, etc...) that are moving through the scene. Right to left motion seems to be more visually pleasing and they appear to be moving towards the viewer (vs moving away from). I don't know that this applies to people though.

  • 1
    I found this exactly the opposite. Left-to-right readers always look in the left side of the picture and scan to the right. So if something is moving, you would expect to see it first, and then the space it moves into.
    – TFuto
    May 14, 2014 at 12:30
  • @TFuto I think it simply depends on what sort of feeling you want to evoke in the photo. A left-to-right motion may feel too smooth or peaceful, bordering on boring, whereas a right-to-left bearing may bring interesting tension to the photo.
    – JohannesD
    May 14, 2014 at 21:54

Another difference is perception.

Example: A person on the right facing left, or on the left facing right, appears to be coming, whereas a person on the right facing right, or on the left facing left, appears to be going.

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