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Framing A Viewer’s Attention

This article addresses the main focuses behind. the framing of an image; in this case there are six. They include the direction of the frame, the magnetism, the asymmetry, the figure-ground relationship, psychological closure, and vectors.

Direction of The Frame:

Much of our what we consume is presented in a horizontal fashion. It is no coincidence that our computer screens, monitors and other technology tend to be oriented horizontally (with the notable exception of the iPhone, which I have no explanation for except practicality). Since ancient times, vertical direction, such as the upward thrust of Gothic architecture, creates a sense of power and imposition, while horizontal lines are manageable and even calming to us.

To exemplify this I found some photos of Maccu Picchu, an ancient city in Peru.

In this image there aren’t really any horizontal planes. The walls of the city are vertically aligned, the landscape is uneven, and the mountain throws off any horizontal balance that might result from the overall leveling of this city. As a result, this photo is jarring and not received well by the viewer.

Horizontal Image

Credit for this image (since it’s too large of a file to link to) goes to National Geographic.

In this photo, there are multiple horizontal planes that make the image aesthetically pleasing for us to view. The clouds in the upper level create a horizontal line, contrasted by the generally horizontal direction of the mountain backdrop. The green of the hill in the foreground, while not a perfectly horizontal line, is much closer than the hill in the previous image. The overall effect of this photo is an organized horizontal direction, which makes it a much more manageable and consumable photo.

*Discussion question: While we may not see many diagonal frames in the natural world, how do they fall into our perception of images? Are they pleasing? Disconcerting? The photo below is another one from Maccu Picchu, this one with a diagonal orientation.


The pull of an image is controlled by how it is framed. The closer to the edge an object is, the more we see it as being pulled in the direction of the edge.

In this image, the magnetism of the frame pulls this man towards the outer edge. But he appears to be resisting, to push against that magnetism, which fits the theme of the photo. In this case, the magnetism of the photo helps to emphasize its meaning.

In this photo, the face’s proximity to the edges of the photo draws the man’s face towards those edges. This gives his face a rounder appearance and is generally something to avoid in a portrait photograph, though I think in this photo the effect was intentional.


In general, more attention is paid to the right side of the image. The more important, more salient focus of the image will be found on the right, whether it is intended that way or not.

In this advertisement, we are supposed to focus our attention on the right side, the product of the ad. The ad is effective, since that’s where our attention is directed.

This ad seems less effective. I can’t say for sure if that’s a result of the unusual left/right composition, but I find this ad didn’t speak to me as well. The emphasis in this photo isn’t very clear, except that on the right is a girl making a sort of angry face.

Figure/Ground Relationship:

An image is divided into both the figure, the object closer and more salient to the viewer, and the ground, which serves as the contrast for the figure. Almost every photo has this relationship; there must be a backdrop from which to perceive the object we are focusing on.

In this image, the figure is the girl, while the ground is literally the ground.

Psychological Closure:

In our human way of organizing perception from chaos, we have a tendency to “fill in the gaps” in images. The formation of this image, a new figure where the gaps have been closed, is called a gestalt.

It is an almost unbreakable human habit to see a circle in this image. We cannot process the random placement of dots, it must become a whole image, a gestalt.


Vectors incorporate movement in a photo. Whether implied or visual, there is a line in a photo (or multiple lines) where we see something happening.  A person simply looking out of the frame implies a relationship between that person and the object they are viewing, and this creates a vector relationship.

Vectors can even be emotions left within us from a photo. If we are moved, whether by the physical space of the photo or the emotional lift or depression, then we have been subjected to the force of a vector.

Graphic vectors are lines within a photo that categorize our perception.

In this image, the vectors are the horizontal planes that divide the image.

Index vectors are lines in a frame that point. They draw the eye along in a certain direction with an end goal.

In this photo, our vision is drawn along the stairs, and upwards to the vector’s end.

Motion vectors are included in moving images, like film, when an object or person moves in the direction your vision and attention should follow.

Vectors are arguable the most important aspect of framing a photo, because they are the primary tool for controlling the direction of the viewer’s attention.

*Discussion Question: How is a diagonal vector different from the actual diagonal alignment of the photo? Is it different at all?


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