One of the most basic constraints on what makes a good photograph is the way our eye moves through an image. But how general are these constraints, what is the reason for them and, most importantly of all, can they be deliberately broken as a part of the creative process of composing a photograph?
Bryan Peterson, in his wondeful book Learning to See Creatively, suggests that it is somehow natural for the eye to ‘enter’ into a photograph from the left. While I don’t think this is natural to us so much as it is a learned convention, it is a convention I find it difficult to break.
One subject I enjoy is fences, and I’ve noticed that if I want to shoot the fence as a diagonal line, the line should indeed start at the left edge of the image, leading the eye naturally into the photograph.
The only way I’ve found to break this convention is when there are figures of people involved. We will naturally consider people more interesting than other subjects, so the eye won’t bounce off in the same way if the bokeh blur at the left edge of the image contains bokeh people.
Why is my eye trained to read a photograph from right to left? Might it be connected to the conventions of writing and reading in general? Can it be that since we are used to reading from left to right, we also view photographs from left to right?
I suspect that conventions for viewing or composing visual art are correspondingly different in societies that use different writing systems, such as Chinese – traditionally read from top to bottom – or Arabic – from right to left. Consider for example Manga, Japanese comics, which are drawn to be read from right to left. This would make no sense if the direction from which we start reading an image is natural to everyone independent of the culture we’ve grown up in.
I would love to hear from you now, what photographic conventions are important to you in your work, and most importantly, which conventions do you deliberately flaunt as a part of your creative process?
All the best from Jenny.