Improving image eye flow by creating corner exits

Back in the day when I was working in corporate life I gained quite a bit of experience creating and managing advertising, usually print based. When we designed ads it became second nature for us to constantly think about fundamental concepts like visual depth, dominating elements, and ad balance. The goal was to achieve good eye flow in the ad. Since leaving corporate life I’ve tried to apply what I learned about advertising design to my photography.

This article deals with something seldom discussed on photography sites: creating corner exits in our images to improve image eye flow.

In Western culture we read from top to bottom, left to right. So, early on we were taught that good advertising should have a logical and pleasing exit point, which in Western culture is the lower right corner. That’s why you’ll often find corporate logos situated in that portion of a print ad.

(NOTE: click on images to enlarge them)

image flow 1

Obviously I wouldn’t force fit a subject to comply with a lower right hand corner ‘rule’. But, when I have a choice of framing I will usually choose a left to right image flow as illustrated in the image above.

This may seem strange, but for many images the one thing I am most focused on just before I press the shutter is getting the composition of the bottom right corner just the way I want it. I find this is often the case when I’m doing street photography. Here are two recent images that illustrate this point.

image flow 2

In the image above I wanted the flow of the arch to exit very smoothly and precisely out of the bottom, right hand corner. To my eye this gave the entire image a sense of order, balance and calm.

image flow 3

The same thing held true for the rope in this street photography image. From my perspective not getting the correct corner exit would have damaged the overall impact of the image. If possible I like to capture images so I don’t need to crop in post at all. This is my preferred method of shooting, and also why I prefer shooting with zoom lenses. Sometimes I simply can’t capture an image exactly as I want and some cropping and other adjustments are needed. Let’s have a look at a couple of images.

image flow 4

As you have noticed, the image above has corner exit points on both the upper and lower right hand corners. I wasn’t able to get these precisely aligned with the original image capture, so I had to slightly crop the image on the top, right hand side and on the bottom to achieve the desired framing. Having these two exit points removes visual dissonance from the image, especially given the number of parallel lines.

image flow 5

I spent some time trying to get the right shooting angle for this image so that the glasses would form a semi-circle type of shape and be ‘flowing’ towards the bottom right corner of the image. Unfortunately the candle holder had distracting back-pointing angles caused by the wide angle with which I was shooting. As a result I had to use a perspective adjustment to shift it to the right in post, which then necessitated some image cropping. With my final crops I aligned the dark burgundy stripe in the place matt so it could exit out of the bottom right hand corner of the image.

image flow 6

Sometimes even a simple looking image takes a bit of work in post as the ‘before and after’ comparison above shows. This pot was up on a second floor window sill and I could not get any closer, or change my shooting angle. You can see I made a number of adjustments with the image. First I made some perspective control adjustments to make it square and reduce the visual distraction caused by all of the competing angles. Then I cropped in on the left side to remove the distracting light and dark colours, leaving a plain, single colour framing on that side. Since the image naturally flows right to left I cropped the bottom in order to create an exit point on the lower left corner. In the bottom right hand quadrant of the original image you’ll notice a small, distracting shadow on the right hand edge of a window inset. This needed to be cropped out. Then the final crop at the top of the image was done to create a corner exit point for the curtain. The final result is a more balanced and pleasing image.

image flow 7

The image above really intrigued me when I shot the original frame. I loved the repetition of the brass details on the spindles and the strong angles created by the handrails. As the ‘before and after’ illustrates a reasonable degree of work was needed to transform the original image into the vision in my mind. First I adjusted the highlights and overall colour and tone to get a smoother, more monotone look to help accentuate the repetition of the brass details. Then I did a number of perspective adjustments to correct all of the distracting angles. Next I cropped in tight to right side of the vertical post so it could frame that side of the image. Then I cropped out the distracting horizontal lines at the bottom of the image. The final crop at the top created a corner exit point.

image flow 8

The lighting in some images can create a natural exit point if we look for it. In the image above we can see that that left hand portion of the image is the brightest and has a good amount of contrast. This would likely draw our initial attention, quickly followed by the stairs, and then the shadows on the wall. After initially looking at the kitchen area the angle of the stairs and the wall shadows would then push our gaze away to the right and off the image. I loved the natural flow of the lighting in this image and took it at a very slow shutter speed (1/4 second hand-held) against my better judgement. Even though the image has a slight blur I still love the lighting in it and how it directs image eye flow.

Creating corner exits to improve eye flow may not be a technique that will apply to a high percentage of your images. You may have a few photos that for whatever reason just don’t seem right and you feel they still have some potential. Have another look at them. If you can rework them to create some corner exits that may be the solution you’ve been seeking.

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Article and all images Copyright 2014, Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, reproduction or duplication including electronic is allowed without written consent.

2 thoughts on “Improving image eye flow by creating corner exits”

  1. Thomas this is a good article that brings out the basics and your take on the same. Illustrations and explanations are simple and crisp as usual. I will surelt take some pointers out of this.


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