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DRicherby
DRicherby  5269 forum posts United Kingdom725 Constructive Critique Points
20 Apr 2012 - 12:57 PM

People often claim that, because we Westerners read left-to-right, photos should be arranged the same way, for example with the subject to the left, looking to the right. Is anyone aware of any studies that back this up? (And I mean proper studies, with eye tracking and all that jazz, not the opinion of some art critic.)

The idea seems to be fanciful nonsense, to me. Looking at a photograph and reading text are completely different cognitive processes so there's no a priori reason to assume they work the same way. In particular, when presented with a page of text, we definitely do look to the top left corner and then scan left to right, top to bottom. But, when we look at a photograph, we first look at the most attention-grabbing part of the photo, wherever that might be: typically, a face or an area of high contrast. There seems to be no relation between these things.

Do readers of of Semitic and Far-Eastern languages think that photographs should go right-to-left? Do people claim that we in the West should drive on the right because then, the traffic closest to a pedestrian crossing the road is moving from left to right so somehow easier to judge?

So, is there any actual basis for this left-to-right thing or is it just an oft-repeated something-or-other?

Dave.

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20 Apr 2012 - 12:57 PM

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digicammad
digicammad  1121988 forum posts United Kingdom37 Constructive Critique Points
20 Apr 2012 - 1:09 PM


Quote: The idea seems to be fanciful nonsense

It is and it isn't. Whilst our instinct when looking at text is to start at the top left, with photos we tend to be drawn more to points of interest. With portraits this is normally the eyes (if they are in frame), with landscapes it is the foreground interest. That is why classical landscape composition calls for something in the foreground to catch the eye, something to form a lead in to the distance and something to hold the eye inside the frame and encourage it to go back to the starting point.

Photos can be given an edge by deliberately breaking these patterns. For example, a portrait in which the model is stood at the edge of the frame looking out instead of in, or a landscape with lots of interest in the far distance and absolutely nothing for the first 2/3.

Take 2 portraits, 1 with the subject on the left looking right and one with the subject on the right looking left. How do you feel about them? Do you feel you are following the first and meeting the second? I do and I put that down to the left-right scanning.

Interesting debate, I look forward to reading other comments on this.

Ian

Jestertheclown
20 Apr 2012 - 1:55 PM

The reading of text theory might apply to single pages but it goes out of the window with a two page spread as you see when you open a magazine or a newspaper.
The most sought after spot for an advert is the top right hand corner of the right hand page. It's also the spot that costs the most to an advertiser should he wish to use it.
The reason being that it's the first part of those two pages that our eyes settle upon.
Page three girls aren't on page three (as opposed to page two or page four) for nothing.

As for images being read from left to right, I'm inclined to go with the 'fanciful nonsense' theory.
We automatically look first at whatever catches our eye, wherever it may be within the images.
But then I'm famously dismissive of the so-called 'rules of composition' anyway.

Last Modified By Jestertheclown at 20 Apr 2012 - 1:58 PM
digicammad
digicammad  1121988 forum posts United Kingdom37 Constructive Critique Points
20 Apr 2012 - 2:06 PM


Quote: The reason being that it's the first part of those two pages that our eyes settle upon.

That's because it is the first thing visible when we open the page.


Quote: We automatically look first at whatever catches our eye,

That's pretty much what I said, but what if nothing catches your eye? Also what about my question re following and meeting?

The (misnamed) rules of composition haven't come about by accident but actually have little to do with left to right scanning and more with how we view the world around us. There is absolutely nothing wrong with dismissing them, as long as you understand why you are doing so and what you want to achieve. If everybody followed the 'rules' photography would be a less interesting pastime.

Jestertheclown
20 Apr 2012 - 2:24 PM


Quote: That's because it is the first thing visible when we open the page.

I realise that Ian, that's what I meant.

We also seem to agree that we see whatever catches our eye first.

As for the 'following' and 'meeting,' idea, I have to admit that I've never thought about it but I don't think that it would make any difference to my perception either way. I'll have to find a portrait and try it.

macroman
macroman  1115312 forum posts England
20 Apr 2012 - 4:28 PM

We were told that if you have the composition right the image will look good if it's viewed upside down or in a mirror.

Makes a bit of sense I suppose.

keith selmes
20 Apr 2012 - 4:51 PM

From the time that I first tried scanning and cropping an image on screen, and thinking seriously about composition, it has seemed to me that it is more natural to have an anchor point in the bottom left and look from there out toward the top left, with something like layers or points from bottom left to top right, similar to the idea of dividing into thirds.

It isn't always the obvious way to do it, but it often feels the most comfortable. Comfortable isn't always the best thing, and sometimes I will consciously do it another way, possibly to be deliberately uncomfortable.

I have wondered about the reading thing, if we read text, we normally start at top left, not bottom left.

I don't know if my comfort zone of bottom left to top right is normal, I have read that it is, but I'm not sure I trust the explanation, it may be the left-right thing is real, but the explanation about reading is a rationalisation and not really correct.

DRicherby
DRicherby  5269 forum posts United Kingdom725 Constructive Critique Points
20 Apr 2012 - 4:56 PM

digicammad wrote:
Quote: That is why classical landscape composition calls for something in the foreground to catch the eye, something to form a lead in to the distance and something to hold the eye inside the frame and encourage it to go back to the starting point.

Indeed. Unfortunately, too many people stop listening after the first point and end up with a huge foreground distraction that they think is "foreground interest". Smile

digicammad wrote:
Quote: Take 2 portraits, 1 with the subject on the left looking right and one with the subject on the right looking left. How do you feel about them? Do you feel you are following the first and meeting the second? I do and I put that down to the left-right scanning.

Interesting idea. Certainly, some images do look better when mirrored. There is a slight feeling of left-to-right being "forwards" and right-to-left being "backwards" and, yes, that may be down to reading direction. Tenuously related to this, we think of the future as being "ahead" of us and the past "behind"; some Pacific island nations have the opposite view, that you can't see into the future so it must be metaphorically behind you.

macroman wrote:
Quote: We were told that if you have the composition right the image will look good if it's viewed upside down or in a mirror.

I was reading Ansel Adams the other day and he was saying that the inverted, mirrored image you get in a view camera is almost a good thing because it makes the image more abstract while you're composing it so you can better see the relationships between the elements of the composition. And I think that's basically the same point as you're making.

Dave.

DRicherby
DRicherby  5269 forum posts United Kingdom725 Constructive Critique Points
20 Apr 2012 - 4:58 PM

keith selmes wrote:
Quote: [...] it may be the left-right thing is real, but the explanation about reading is a rationalisation and not really correct.

That's a definite possibility, yes.

Dave.

adrian_w
adrian_w e2 Member 73355 forum postsadrian_w vcard Scotland4 Constructive Critique Points
20 Apr 2012 - 5:12 PM

It may be an artistic thing or possibly even pschological but if you look at pictures of people or animals, even going back to the 14th century, the majority of them have the subject on the right facing to the left.

Mayfly
Mayfly  9485 forum posts United Kingdom2 Constructive Critique Points
20 Apr 2012 - 5:48 PM


Quote: It may be an artistic thing or possibly even pschological but if you look at pictures of people or animals, even going back to the 14th century, the majority of them have the subject on the right facing to the left.

Perhaps (with portraits especially) it's partly down to body language. I don't know many people who feel completely relaxed and uninhibited when a camera is pointed at them, so they naturally turn away from the camera, which forces the classic composition ?

Last Modified By Mayfly at 20 Apr 2012 - 5:48 PM
DRicherby
DRicherby  5269 forum posts United Kingdom725 Constructive Critique Points
20 Apr 2012 - 5:53 PM

adrian_w wrote:
Quote: if you look at pictures of people or animals, even going back to the 14th century, the majority of them have the subject on the right facing to the left.

Really? I looked at Wikipedia's gallery of Rembrandt's work and I reckoned twenty facing right, nineteen facing left and nine facing forwards or with a more or less equal balance of people facing each way. The thirty "highlight paintings" at the National Gallery has nine facing right, six facing left and eleven forwards/balanced (and some landscapes and flowers and so on). In a book of photos by Robert Doisneau, the first fifty with people in had twenty facing right, eighteen left and twelve forwards/balanced.

So, hardly a scientific survey but it seems to me that art is actually pretty well balanced between people facing left and people facing right.

Dave.

Last Modified By DRicherby at 20 Apr 2012 - 5:55 PM
DRicherby
DRicherby  5269 forum posts United Kingdom725 Constructive Critique Points
20 Apr 2012 - 5:57 PM

Mayfly wrote:
Quote: I don't know many people who feel completely relaxed and uninhibited when a camera is pointed at them, so they naturally turn away from the camera, which forces the classic composition ?

Even assuming that there was a bias to right-facing compositions (which, I dispute), why would every camera-shy person turn the same way? And why would there be a bias among posed photos and paintings?

Dave.

Mayfly
Mayfly  9485 forum posts United Kingdom2 Constructive Critique Points
20 Apr 2012 - 6:49 PM


Quote: Even assuming that there was a bias to right-facing compositions (which, I dispute), why would every camera-shy person turn the same way?

I wasn't saying that everyone turns the same way, just that people turn away from the camera (generally speaking) so we end up with them looking slightly across the frame.

Have you ever tried flipping a shot on the horizontal axis ? looks kinda weird but could anyone tell the difference ? maybe worth a little experiment ?

Post a photo but don't let on if it's been flipped on the horizontal and see if people can guess correctly if it's the original composition or the flipped composition.

Mayfly
Mayfly  9485 forum posts United Kingdom2 Constructive Critique Points
20 Apr 2012 - 6:52 PM

flip.jpg

flipped or not ?

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