When we look at an image of a person, we naturally graduate towards their eyes - it’s human nature to do so, just as we would when we meet people in the flesh. Lots of the rules we’ve been learning help you to direct the viewer to your subject’s eyes (we’re talking about portraits here - but it would apply to other things with eyes, such as wildlife, but not really to still lives or landscapes!)
What you might not realise is that if the subject of an image is not looking directly at the viewer, then our natural tendency is to follow their gaze, and look at what they are looking at. You can exploit this in many ways, not least as it allows you to direct your viewer’s attention all round the frame to other parts of the image you want them to pay attention to.
In this simple example:
we look first to Ricky Hatton’s eyes, and then we quickly follow his gaze down to where he’s tying his hand wraps. Here we go first to the player in the foreground on the right,
then down to the ball, and then are drawn back to the player on the left who is also watching the ball closely.
Eyelines can establish a connection between elements in your shot, and can also get your viewers thinking. In both of these shots we follow someone’s gaze across to another person in the frame whose eyes we can’t see.
This creates a little bit of dynamic tension and intrigue, and draws us into the shot, as we find ourselves asking what’s being said or exchanged.
You can, of course, combine eye line with other tricks - such as here where we follow Lisa’s gaze along the bar to...
.. Well, we don’t know where - to the barman? To someone who’s just walked up to the bar? We don’t know, but by combining eyeline with blank space we introduce an element of mystery to the shot.