The Law of Gaze in Portrait Photography

The portrait is one of the most exciting topics in the world of photography and therefore one of the ones that has the most followers, and not only because of the “easiness” in terms of having available models, but because of everything that a portrait can reach. transmit and count. A landscape, an animal, can interest us, or even move us, but people not only move us, they move us.

Of course there is no perfect recipe, a good portrait is made up of many ingredients, among them the person who shoots, who can alter the rest of the ingredients 😉 but there are some recommendations that can help you achieve a great portrait and some rules that normally you must go on. It is true that in art the rules are “relative”, and I put in quotes because although I have said several times that the rules are to be broken and that we should not put limits on our creativity, it is also likely that you know (if you read the blog regularly ) that to skip them you have to know them well and know how to apply them. If you ignore them (in the literal sense of the word), it will be obvious that it is a failure. If you skip them with a clear intention, for an artistic or creative reason, we are talking about another story, you are doing it with a reason, with a reason that can be read in the image, and you do it knowing the rule and knowing that, in In this particular case, your photography will win if you don’t apply the rule this time.

And since it is so important to know the rules, today we are going to talk about one of the main ones, the law of the gaze in portrait photography. It is very easy to understand and carry out and the difference between applying it or not is enormous. It simply consists of leaving space in front of your model’s gaze. There is talk of letting the person “breathe”, leaving him “air” so that he does not create a feeling of suffocation, or of being overwhelmed. The free space must always be in front of your subject, if you do it like this, the image will gain attractiveness and will be more interesting. This rule helps direct the gaze and arouse curiosity about what the protagonist will be observing. You can see it best with examples, so here are some.

Jonathan Kos-Read
Richard Romano

When I think of this rule, it comes to mind when we were punished as children by staring at the wall. If you think about it, it’s something similar, but in this case the wall would be the edge of the image. Putting your protagonist “facing the edge” of the photo is like punishing him, preventing him from participating in the scene, clipping his wings to fly, limiting his vision and his ability to move. Because when we talk about gaze, we also talk about directionality, he can be looking down, but if his whole body is directed to the left, you can’t put the limit on that side. It would not be worth just leaving space to the right and below the gaze. If you do it, it is because you want to transmit something concrete with that action, in that case, go ahead! Look at this image, I am almost sure that what the author intended by ignoring the law of the gaze was precisely to “deprive” the woman portrayed of that freedom of movement, expression and even dreams. The vast space, the interesting landscape, has been left behind her, out of her reach, thus accentuating her sad and melancholy gesture.

You can transmit a lot if you skip this rule but with a clear intention

Compare it with this other one, the sensations are tremendously different, right?

Steve Evans

In the following case there also seems to be a clear intention to confuse the public, to create a feeling of claustrophobia… If you look at the sitter’s gesture, it will give you the feeling of being scared, cornered… cutting off “the air” right in front of it increases that feeling even more. feeling don’t you think?

Boudewijn Berends

As I was saying before, the space does not necessarily have to be to the left or to the right, everything will depend on the “direction” of the subject. Look at this example so you can see it clearly, very clearly 😉


You can also respect this rule when multiple people appear in the photo. Normally a portrait is of a person, but images like the following can also be given. On this occasion the author has framed respecting the law of the gaze in both cases, leaving as a result a wonderful photograph:

Diego Dalmaso Martins

If you are still not completely clear, I will give you some more examples in which the law of the gaze is fulfilled and that can serve as inspiration.

Zuhair A. Al-Traifi
Ronai Rocha
Grace Mele
Caro Musso
Emilio Chulia

Haven’t you had a terrible desire to look for your camera and launch yourself in search of portraits in which you can play with the law of the gaze and transmit all these sensations? I’ll bet you are, you can’t wait to see what effect you can achieve with this simple composition rule. And if you want to delve into photographic composition and learn all the tips and tricks for some of the most impressive photographs, I recommend this mega guide that we have prepared for you.

If you found this article interesting or useful, remember to share so that your contacts can also read it. Thanks for coming this far and until next time!