The Secrets of Psychology in Photography

As a continuation of our marketing psychology series, let’s take a look at how the brain interprets the objects within a photograph. Before we continue, if you haven’t read The Psychology of Color in Video Marketing, click over and read that post first. It will bring you up to speed before jumping into this information. For those who have read about the psychology of color, let’s get started.

As you know, color has a huge impact on how someone feels and responds. That goes for any marketing materials: print, video, and photographs. Along with color, there are also other elements that should be discussed:

Direction Composition Story


Photographic direction is defined as the path that your eyes take while looking at the image. Take a look at the photograph to the right, and be mindful of what feelings you initially experience? Do you trust these people or not? Do they look friendly or sneaky? Where do your eyes wander? Do you focus more on the left or on the right, at all of the faces or at the hands? Most importantly, where do your eyes stop moving?

Understanding the answers to these questions can help you place important information where viewers will be looking. Let me explain, but before I do, let me guess your answers. I would bet that most of you reading this post would find the individuals in this photograph trustworthy and friendly. I would also guess that your eyes were first drawn to the man on the right, then moving swiftly to the lady in the back-left and then stopping where you started–the man on the right. The cycle typically begins again, always spending more time on the man on the right. Was I close?

How Direction Works

The overall tone of the photograph is blue, which gives the viewer a sense of trust and security. This is why most viewers of this photograph will feel that these people are just down-to-earth friendly and trustworthy.

Business people sitting at desk with attention toward another person.The eye will typically focus first on the most in-focus part of the photograph, but the brain wants to see what else is there so it will try to find lines to move along. This photograph reveals a curved line of people moving to the left, so your eyes will naturally follow that line. The brain also wants order, so it moves back to the man on the right, who happens to be in focus.

Secret: Place important website, print material, and video information on the edge of the photograph where people will be the most focused. The photo will lead the eye right where your call to action could be placed.


Composition, or framing the photo is another very important psychological aspect of pictures used for marketing. As we’ve learned before, the human brain seeks order in everything that it experiences. In terms of a photo, the viewer feels more comfortable if the subject is placed into one of four cardinal points. Divide your image into thirds-often called the “rule of thirds”-and place the subject (or eyes of your subject), into one of these four areas. The viewer feels comfortable when looking at photos where the rule of thirds has been used.

Rule of Thirds Example

Visual explanation of the rule of thirds in photography.The rule of thirds is a photographic technique that helps to balance your image and anchors the eye to look into a specific direction. By placing the main part of your subject at one of the intersection lines, the image becomes more pleasing and natural. There are some other aspects of the rule of thirds, but that will be covered in a later post.

Examples of Composition

Let’s study three examples of the same photograph, so that you can better understand the psychological effects. Below are three statements explaining the three photos.

Photo 1: Pull out your cell phone and look through the pictures that you’ve taken. Chances are most, if not all, have the subject directly in the center of the photograph. This is referred to in the photography industry as “dead-center syndrome”. Photo number one is an example of dead-center composition. It causes the viewer to become, subconsciously, unsure of the subject. The eyes will typically not stay on the subject but will look over every part of the picture.

Photo 2: The photo technically uses the rule of thirds but something just isn’t right. Each photograph tells a story. The young lady is looking off to the right, but the viewer will feel uneasy when seeing this picture. Even though the exposure is good, the pose is nice and the setting is beautiful, the image still doesn’t “feel” right.

Photo 3: This photo correctly uses the rule of thirds. The lines of the handrail lead the eye directly to the young woman and will most likely stay there.

Photographic Story

Photo explaining the importance of of composition.Every snapshot that is taken tells a story…good or bad. When you look at your marketing photography, are the pictures telling your story correctly? Let me explain. The story is very closely related to composition, so with that in mind, let’s use photo number 2 and 3, above.

What comes to mind with you look at number 2? Where is she looking? Is someone approaching? Is she in danger? Our brains will come up with all kinds of stories to make sense of the image. The reason that it’s mentally uncomfortable is there is little “looking room” in the direction where she is looking. Looking room is the space between the subject’s face and the edge of the screen. The viewer of this image wants to see where she is looking.

In contrast, photo 3 gives plenty of looking room, while still maintaining the rule of third. Our brains will usually create a pleasant story when there is plenty of looking room. We can see that she isn’t in danger, because there is no one close to her. Perhaps she is taking in the beauty of her surroundings.


These are only a few of the psychological cues that every person on the planet experiences when viewing advertising images. It’s easy to now see that if a photographer is going to provide clients with photographs that are successful in communicating the expected marketing message, he or she should have a strong background in the psychology of photography. Episode 11 Productions provides continuing education to its photographers to ensure that the smallest details aren’t missed because it will not be missed in the mind of your prospect.