What Draws Your Eye?

This past week, while riding the motorcycles around with my father, we stopped off at a gas station. Since I had my 35mm with me - which I was using to “document” the trip - I decided to compose a quick photograph of the field aside of where we parked.

In the frame was, of course, the field itself, as well as a bit of the metal barrier and some telephone poles in the mid-ground. (If the film turned out, I will add the scanned image to this post in a day or so.)

As I was framing the composition, my father asked me what I saw that was so interesting so as to take a photograph. In other words, what drew my eye and pulled me to make the photograph.

Honestly, I could not articulate an answer. And it got me thinking: why is it that we photograph what we photograph?

So, I figured I would pose that same question here, believing it to make for an interesting debate. When you are out with your camera and a composition catches your eye, do you ever think of why? Further, are there scenes which catch your eye more often than others and, if so, why is that?

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To me it’s all about seeing an intriguing combination.

It may be the alignment of multiple subjects, the combination of unusual subjects together (e.g., two different wildlife species I normally wouldn’t be able to capture in the same frame), the alignment of different elements and tones in the visual frame…

The latter has become even more important since I’ve begun thinking more about monochrome photos. I find myself picking out bold shapes, tones, and textures that may be emphasized in a black and white rendition, so I find myself looking beyond simply documenting the main subject (usually an animal) and thinking more about the graphic elements that will occupy the canvas.


Terrific topic and question Cody. I’m not sure any of us know the exact reason we are drawn to a scene when someone else walks right by the same thing. All I know is that I know it when I see it. Well, that explains everything , right? LOL
I guess for me it’s mostly about Subject in combination with Light. Take the same scene without good light or a good subject, and you probably don’t take the picture. But I think the subject is the most important part of the equation. A good subject is what I notice first. If there is poor light I’ll make sure to come back to that location when the light is better. On the other hand, you can have great light but no good subject and you have no image. Good light happens everyday but it needs to happen in conjunction with a great subject or good light is meaningless. The subject is something that has to have meaning for me, it has to draw me in, it has to get my creative juices flowing because maybe it’s just pretty, moody, colorful, ominous, or huge and maybe it has interesting lines, shapes, textures, curves and colors that draw me in. Each scene is different. I can be drawn in to take an image of a mushroom, a tall snowcapped mountain, a bison on the range or a spider in a web but whatever it is I’m taking a picture of has to speak to me. And I too, can’t put into words why something speaks to me and something else does not. It’s very hard to articulate but again, I know it when I see it and “it” is different for everyone. Lastly, the scene has to fit into a composition that looks and feels right. Forget the rules. It just needs to feel right. Keep only what’s needed to make the scene complete but also have a path for the eye to follow, leading lines, light, dark, etc. that help tell your story. I think that’s pretty much it for me. You sure got me thinking though and I still can’t articulate it very well. Maybe it’s an emotion that stirs my senses. I’m not sure but, “I know it when I see it.” Sorry, I had to say it one more time. :grin:


I’m interpreting this a little differently from the scene-driven selections we all make like the one in your example story. The other day while talking to someone I described myself as a photographer of very small things. Oh sure I do landscapes and wildlife, but macro draws me consistently, relentlessly. Revealing small worlds. Finding overlooked beauty, or, barring that, at least something cool and interesting. I just spent a happy hour or so in my own yard doing this exact thing. Looking down. Perfecting my long-term deep squat. Playing with lighting. Using tweezers to clean up a scene barely an inch wide. Endlessly intriguing and always surprising. I found a miniscule spider curled up in a leaf of moss in one of my recent shots. Whole tiny worlds we know nothing about. It just fascinates me and I like to think that every now and then, I surprise people with what I find and help them to consider what they often overlook.


I can relate entirely to your looking more monochromatically. For me, tonal separation is the biggest factor in whether I believe a photograph will work out at all in black and white. Yet, this is not often the first aspect which draws me to the scene. Like you, I look for bold shapes and textures which can be emphasized and, ultimately, help reveal the mood of the photograph I am going for. How interesting.

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You hit the nail on the head with this one, David. Love it.

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Love this! :joy: Oh the extents we go to for our art.

At the end of the day, I think it is so important for us to stay true to ourselves, regardless what others think of what we photograph. Thank you for this reminder, Kristen.

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Great discussion here, Cody. I’ve always been told to stop, look, really see the scene before shooting. What is it that works for you? I have to say however, I tend more toward @David_Haynes comment of I know it when I see it. I rarely study a scene. I see something and I shoot it. That might be why many/most of my images are just so so, but I also find that once I’ve taken the shot or a few shots, my interest moves on to something else. I think I cultivated that when I was doing a lot of B&W street photography.

Looking forward to seeing what you captured with film. I miss film sometimes, but I also like that I can look at the back of my camera and feel fairly sure I captured what it was I saw in the scene.


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I definitely think there is a need for photographers to more deeply study their why when it comes to composition and subject choice, though this is something I typically do not do very often. It has only been recently that I have even begun thinking about it - as prefaced by this discussion post. If we push to learn why it is we photograph what we photograph, we will become much more aware of our artistic choices and the meaning behind our work. And, as you mentioned, it will help us to garner a higher success rate.

Even if you simply start by analyzing more deeply the work you have taken over the years - and then begin transitioning that into the field - it could lead to drastic differences.

Then again, maybe this is too analytical an approach for most photographers (myself included, perhaps).

Thanks for chiming in, regardless. All this has done nothing but help me better configure my own thinkings.

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It also comes in quite handy for used book sales - almost no one can rummage through the boxes on the floor as long as I can!

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This may sound a little “cliché” but I actually wait for my subject to make it’s presence noticed.
I’m not the type of photographer who leaves home with a goal or a photograph in mind. I go somewhere – I obviously have an idea of ​​what I can find – but I go with an open mind looking for anything that catches my eye; a shape, a color, a light. At that point, we can say that system 1 – the intuitive, visceral, from Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and slow” made a decision so that system 2 – the more cerebral one, begins to take charge of the situation and assess whether it’s worth to take a picture.

Most of the time i reach the point I’m heading, I remove the camera bag, sit down, have some water and some food and start looking at everything


Yes, I can certainly relate to this approach. Difficult as it may be, I try hard not to go out with any specific expectations in-mind but rather with a mind open to experiences with hopes something will “make it’s presence noted.”

And thank you for the reminder of “Thinking Fast and Slow” - it is a book on my list which must be read in due time.