Where people are looking in your images offers you another level of control.
We are very sensitive to where people are looking. Consider how disturbing it is when you are talking to someone and they look away from you. We are very keyed into people’s eyes and we can use this in our photography.
One of the things we can try to control with an image is how the viewer’s eyes travel around the image (we’ll cover this in a much longer article on the site soon). If you shoot people then where they are looking is very important. A subject looking straight at the camera can be very striking.
When the subject (or subjects) is not looking at the camera but elsewhere, the direction they are looking creates a major line in the image that the viewer will probably explore. You should exploit this. If the subject is looking straight out of the frame it makes a very definite statement. Sometimes this is what you want and sometimes it is not, so you need to be conscious of this in crafting your image. If it is a grab shot you may have little control beyond cropping or later darkroom or digital manipulations. If you are posing the shot then you have full control.
When the subject (or one of the subjects) is looking at another person or object within the image you create a relationship between the two. You can exploit this to build the message you wish to convey. We have probably all seen the movie poster (can’t remember the film) where the bride is looking at the groom but the groom is looking at someone else. We can be obvious (as in this example) or we can be subtler or more intriguing. Why is that person looking at that object that, on first glance, seems so unrelated? What is going on here?
Photography and art uses a visual language to communicate with the viewer. Make sure you are making full use of the language.