The left to right rule may seem a little odd and it certainly is a little bit controversial. But rather know about a photography composition technique and decide not to use it, than not know it at all.
What is the left to right rule?
The basis of the left to right rule is pretty much what it says on the tin. If a subject is moving from one side of your frame to the other, it is best to photograph them moving from the left side of the frame to the right side of the frame.
The logic behind this is that in many countries we read from left to right. It’s that simple really. Our eyes are used to moving from the left to the right. So we subconsciously expect a subject to move from left to right in an image.
Can you guess which composition technique works well with the left to right rule? Keep reading to the bottom to find out.
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Why is the left to right rule controversial?
What makes this composition rule controversial is that not every country reads from left to right. Even in countries that do read from left to right, many photographers feel that the direction in which we read is irrelevant to photography composition.
From my point of view, I’m not going to rule out a potential shot, just because the subject is going in the “wrong” direction. Besides, you can always flip the image horizontally afterwards, as long as there are no signs in the image to give the game away. I do, however, generally observe the rule as a matter of course.
So why bother with the left to right rule?
The reason why you should know about the left to right rule, and apply it if possible, is because if you ever want to enter your image into a competition, this could be one of the factors that the judges take into consideration. I say “could be”, because you can never really know what the judges consider important. Now that you know about it, however, you are better prepared for entering photography competitions.
I also feel that it’s good practice to think through all elements of composition before taking a shot or positioning yourself to take a shot.
When to use the left to right rule
I’d advising using any rule of composition in photography whenever you can so that it can become automatic. Then, when you’ve really got to know all the rules of composition, you won’t have to think so hard when composing an image. So, if it is possible to direct the movement from left to right, rather than from right to left, go for it.
Examples where you have some control:
- Portrait photography
- Fashion photography
- Wedding photography
Slowing down before shooting is always a good idea, because it gives time to consider everything and so construct a better image. The only exception is if something is happening front of you and slowing down or respositioning means missing out on the shot. Obviously. Then of course, shoot first, think later, or at least while shooting.
- Street photography
- Sports photography, such as motor racing
Here are some examples of the left to right rule in action
The above shot is how the photo was taken. The movement of the ride is from right to left, which technically is not correct in photography composition. It doesn’t bother me, but if I wanted to make it technically accurate, I could simply flip the image horizontally and the movement would then be from left to right.
The above shot follows the left to right rule. If it didn’t, however, I would not be able to flip it as the numbers would then read backwards.
The father and child playing is another example of applying the left to right rule as they are moving from the left of the frame to the right.
When applying the left to right rule in photography composition, it’s also a good idea to consider the rule of space.
Further reading: Why the rule of space is so powerful in photography composition
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By Jane Allan
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