Dear friend,

A simple technique we can integrate into our photography — let us draw imaginary red arrows whichever direction our subjects are looking, or the direction they are walking!


Essentially what we are doing is creating vectors— little arrows that point in different directions.

Vectors are interesting because they show us which direction to look, and vectors are dynamic– they have force and power!

Vectors and eye direction

This is the interesting and fun thing:

When we look at a photograph, our eyes track the direction in which the subject of the photo is looking at.

For example, if I have a picture of Cindy looking upwards in the photo, my eyes (the viewer) will also look upwards.

And what we can do is draw an imaginary vector — a red arrow which goes the same direction as the eyes of Cindy.

Vectors and three-dimensional reality

Vectors start getting tricky when we deal with three-dimensions. For example in this photo below, we have a picture of a poster looking directly at us, with a woman looking to the bottom-left of the frame:

But if we draw in the red arrow of the eye looking directly at us– we cannot really show (in three dimensions) that the face in the background is actually looking directly at us.

It is very difficult for me to try to illustrate in three-dimensions the depth between the woman in the foreground and the poster in the background. In a future essay I will address this.

A video I attempted to make to demonstrate three-dimensionality of the two subjects in Adobe Dimension:

What do you want your viewer to look at?

So there is the subject of the photo (the person you are photographing), and there is the viewer of the photograph (the person looking at the photo). The reason why eye direction is essential is because it informs us (the viewer) what to look at in a photo!

For example in this photo of this airline pilot, he was holding money. I took a photo the moment the pilot was looking down at the money, and thus the viewer also looks at the money:

Negative space

Another effective way to use eye direction:

Use it to highlight negative space.

For example, in this picture I shot of Cindy in an elevator, there is a lot of negative space on top of the frame. Thus, I asked her to look up, and thus the viewer’s eyes track the same direction as Cindy– looking up in the frame:

Another example — a boy on top of the frame, looking to the right side of the frame (negative space):

Walking directions

Another simple concept– to create more three-dimensionality in your photos, have your subjects walking different directions, and looking different directions:


1. Leading lines

Leading lines is simple: look for lines and arrows in the streets, and wait until your subject enters the frame, and shoot your photos the exact moment when your subject is in front of the arrow. For example this picture, I saw an arrow on the street, and waited for someone to enter. A minute or two later a man in a bicycle was riding by, and I shot the photo at the “decisive moment” that the man was at the end of the arrow:

Another example:

2. Eye contact

Photos in which the subject of the photo is looking directly at you are intimate. It feels as if the subject in the photo is directly looking at you (the viewer). Most of my best photos demonstrate this– in which the subjects of my photos are looking directly at you.

Why is this effective?

  1. First of all, it makes the viewer feel like they’re really there. It puts the viewers in the shoes of the photographer.
  2. It makes the viewer more emotionally connected to the picture, because they feel some sort of fright or emotional impact (having the subject of the photo looking directly at you). In real life, a lot of us humans get social anxiety from making eye contact with strangers. Perhaps we get the same effect when looking at photos (which are also looking back at us).

3. Ask your subject to look different directions

Ask your subject to look up, down, left, right, or different directions (when shooting street portraits or portraits with permission):

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