In my Creating Visual Impact class going on right now, there was discussion about placement in the frame of key objects, and a question arose about my comment that 'we read from left to right...' in western cultures. I thought it would make a good blog in general to talk about how we enter picture spaces.
In western cultures where we read from left to right, top to bottom, our normal, comfortable entry point is from the left. A psychology study I read years ago talked about this, that we entered a picture from the left/top and circled around. I have always considered the rule of thirds in my compositions, and most times, have found that I like the upper right or lower left for placement the best, for pictures that have harmony. But I never place something there if the space is going to be too empty on the left then; in the case of this rock and fall color reflection, it worked to put the rocks on the lower right. You enter the picture, travel across all this blaze of color, and come to rest on the rocks. You've seen my whole picture at that point. For my class, I decided to flip the picture to show the difference. In the flipped version, it actually still works, because the rock is shaped such that you follow it to the point of the rock and then jump into the pool of color. But I still prefer it with the rock on the right; it's more peaceful to me that way. (you'll have to cover one with your hand to really get the full effect of each picture in both sets).
In the second example, I shot the original with the reeds all the way on the right because I wanted the viewer to travel over the soft subtle colors of the reflected sky, before getting to the strong graphics of the reeds. In the flipped version, you hit the reeds first, they bend or point back to the left, and there's a visual tension created; you try to go to the right to look at the soft colors but the reeds seem to yank you back.
So what happens in a culture that reads right to left, or some other direction? They will tend to enter the picture space differently. If you can get a hold of some Asian magazines, or stock photo catalogs, you will see very different compositions in some cases. You may in fact find some of them unsettling, and some exciting to your eye.
The important thing is to consider how you want the viewer to travel through your image, and compose with that in mind. To make my pictures more dynamic, I often try to 'force' the viewer into the scene from a different corner. It's a great way to stir up the mind.
Someone once said that a good composition can be evaluated by turning the picture upside down. Someone else once told me that converting to a black and white really showed you whether the composition was strong or not. These are all valid ideas, ones you should experiment with, to judge for yourself.
Have a great week of photography,