We don’t just look at a photography, we scan it. Our eyes move through an image following real or imagined lines searching for places to rest. That pattern of eye movement is called flow and it is the responsibility of the photographer to direct and lead the viewer’s gaze through the image.
Flow helps create the perception of three dimensional space within the two dimensional image and imbues energy, movement and dynamics into a flat, static print.
Consider this image of daffodils on the hills at Ebey’s Landing, WA.
(Sony α7RII, FE 24-70 @ 36mm, 1/250, f9.0, ISO 400)
When I look at this image I initially focus on the bright flowers; but then I’m drawn into the image following the shoreline into the upper right where it fades to grey and merges with the clouds. My scan of the image takes just a fraction of a second and if I’m not paying attention I’d miss the movement completely. Even though the movement is brief, it has the desired effect on the viewer and creates an energy that helps make the image more interesting.
The image above has a rather simple theme and subject matter and hence the flow is also rather simple. Other images with multiple subjects or focal points might have a much more complex pattern of flow.
Spend some time looking at several images; they can be your own or someone else’s, maybe on Facebook or Instagram. As you look at them notice how your gaze moves through and scans over the image. What draws your eye through the frame? Where does your focus come to rest?
The next time you pick up a camera think about the scene you’re trying to capture, try and work toward a composition that has flow that captures the viewer’s interest.