How To Use Light To Direct Viewers’ Attention

by William Lulow

Light is often used to direct a viewer’s attention in a photograph. Our eye tends to see light colors first, dark colors second. Light stands out. Dark recedes. So, if you want to emphasize an element within a picture, shine a light on it. This simply means that if you want to attract your viewer’s attention to an element within a photograph, make sure it is lit.

Here are a couple of examples. Note how your eye goes directly to the highlights.

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Light reflects off of everything we shoot. You can use this fact to your advantage when composing your pictures. Look for what is highlighted in a scene. Shine your lights on the parts of the image to which you wish to call attention. You need to remember that in order to register a highlight as white, the light needs to be at least one f/stop BRIGHTER than the main light you are using for the entire scene.  If you don’t do this, your “highlight” will be the same tone as everything else and defeat your purpose.

Study other photographs and notice what elements your eye sees first. Then try to replicate that effect in your own pictures.