Make Your Images More Compelling

By Alfie Wace 

Whenever my photography is displayed, whether at an art show, festival or gallery, one of the most frequent comments I hear is “great composition!” Initially, I would attribute those kind remarks to the fact that I was following the Rules of Thirds and utilizing leading lines in my images. But as I analyzed my work more carefully, I realized there was an additional element at work, one that I learned years ago as a student at Southeastern Center for the Arts in Atlanta.

During my studies, I had the supreme privilege of working with some phenomenal photographers, including Neil Chaput de Saintonge, Bruce Barnbaum, Alison Shaw and, especially, Cole Weston. At that time, digital photography was far off on the horizon. Shooting in manual mode was the norm, and we relied on the basics: aperture, shutter speed, film ISO and composition. But I came to understand and appreciate an additional composition element, which I refer to as “The Western Eye.” And no, this has nothing to do with cowboys and Indians! Rather, it’s about how our eyes are trained to read.

For example, in the Far East, the Asian script system is written from top to bottom, as such:

In the Middle East, Hebrew and Arabic are written and read from right to left. This is how their eyes are trained from childhood: top to bottom, or right to left:

But in European and western cultures, our language is written from left to right. That’s how our eyes have been taught to perceive the world. It’s how we read, and what is most natural and comfortable for us.

That’s why the most compelling images, in my view, are the ones where the “story” begins on the left and moves across the page. David duChemin refers to this concept as “visual mass” in his eBook Drawing the Eye. (1)

Here are a few of my images that incorporate The Western Eye theory:

So yes, keep the basic composition rules in mind. But an understanding and use of The Western Eye, in my opinion, provides the opportunity to elevate your images to a higher level of visual excellence.

  1. David duChemin, Drawing the Eye
Alfie Wace has been a professional photographer for 30 years. She has been a GNPA member for seven years, is the founder and member of the Coastal Chapter, serves as EXPO Committee Chair, as well as serving on the Communications Committee and Conservation Committee. Alfie resides on Tybee Island.