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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Linguistics And Emotion

Images which are decidedly asymmetric often have a different ‘feel’ when oriented in one direction as compared to the other. This is important since it effects the message conveyed by an image and in the digital era it is a trivial matter to flip an image on its horizontal or vertical axis.

In cultures where language is read from left to right, images that ‘flow’ from left to right (or have an isolated subject placed on the left) are said to feel more peaceful than those which have a flow in the opposite, or right to left direction. The theory is that eye movement from right to left goes against the natural tendency for people to ‘read’ an image from left to right, thereby causing a sense of tension. In cultures where written language is read from right to left, the opposite is said to be true.

This can, at times, be used in a subtle fashion to accentuate the feeling we are trying to convey in an image. I am not suggesting that an emotionless image will suddenly come to life if oriented differently, but if an image has something to convey, its orientation may help give it a bit of a nudge in a specific direction.

In an earlier blog post I discussed this image:

In its current orientation, the flow is from left to right. The image, as it was originally taken was actually oriented from right to left as seen here:

Images Copyright Howard Grill

I flipped the image in Photoshop because I felt that there was a subtle change in its feel with the change in orientation. As suggested earlier, the top image flows from left to right and, to me, had a more peaceful feel to it. In other cases, one could well be trying to convey a sense of tension, which might be accentuated by the opposite orientation.


I find the whole idea of the relationship between culture, writing, language and the ‘feel’ of an image quite interesting. Is there a difference in the ‘feel’ of the two images, or am I imagining it based on a preconceived notion?