Week 19 - Use nose room to lead the eye

First we make eye contact, then we follow the eyes. For that reason, we need nose room.

What does that mean? Here’s the internal dialog your potential viewers have when they look at a photo with a person in it. 

“Who is that?” We look at the eyes to identify and connect.

“What is he looking at?” We then move in the direction the eyes are pointed.

A compositional technique says you let that movement take you into the frame rather than out of it. We call that providing nose room.


When I took this photo of the Three Soldiers at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I placed them on the left of the frame and created open space in front of them. My viewer will make eye contact with the soldiers and then move into the frame. If the soldiers were placed on the right side, my viewers make eye contact and run into the edge of the frame. That has a very different effect.

This is a simple technique when one or two subjects are looking in the same direction, but what happens they are looking at each other?


In this case, you try to create a primary subject and secondary one. In my photo of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, my primary subject, the nurse, is looking at my secondary subject, the wounded soldier.

When you have two subjects interacting, it is always best to position yourself so one is clearly the primary. Do that by making sure we can see both eyes. We then follow her eyes to the secondary subject. If we can move our viewers deliberately around the frame, it makes for a much more pleasing experience.


The Challenge

Take a photo with a primary and secondary subject. Make it clear that one is the hero and position that person so we follow the eyes to the secondary subject.

Remember that you will have more impact if we can see both eyes of your primary subject. We’re not looking for two profiles. We want to connect with one person and then move to the second.

Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.


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