Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles

This chapter is from the book

The Six Priorities Determine Where the Eye Looks First

All things being equal, when looking at an image, we look at faces first. But, things are rarely equal, either by accident or by intent. What if there is more than one face in the image? What if there’s only one face but it’s obscured? What if the face is really small? That’s where these priorities come in; they help us guide the viewer’s eye to where we want it to look first.

I’m indebted to Norman Hollyn who first introduced this concept of visual hierarchy to me, though I’ve modified his order and definitions. Our brain is hardwired to process images in a specific order. We will refer to this list often as we create images because it determines the order in which our audience looks at elements within the image. (In fact, for easy reference, you’ll find these listed at the start of each section in this book.)

When looking at still or moving images, such as Figure 2.2, the eye goes through a “checklist” of where to look first, then second, and so on. I call this checklist “The Six Compositional Priorities that Determine Where the Eye Looks First.” That is, ah, a mouthful, so I’ll abbreviate this as the “Six Priorities.” The eye looks at an image and the elements in it in a specific order, based on these priorities:


FIGURE 2.2 Why does your eye see the black puzzle piece first? (Image Credit:












In front

If something is moving, our eyes look there first. If nothing moves, we look at that which is in focus. If everything is in focus, we look at that which is different. And so on. We look at elements that are higher on this list before we look at elements that are lower. These priorities are not only used for images or video; they also apply to how we look at the world around us in real life.

Let me illustrate each of these.

It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of movement. Long before we learned to write, we were hunters—or being hunted. Our brains are hardwired to pay attention to anything that moves. Our first thought is, “Is that food, or are we food?” Movement always gets our attention.

Obviously, still images don’t “move” as video does. However, we can imply movement, even in a still image. This implied movement often makes for a more compelling image. (When we create video, movement becomes an effective tool for attracting and guiding the eye of the viewer. I’ll cover this in Section 3, “Persuasive Moving Images.”)

Movement is hard to show in a book. For example, if Figure 2.3 were a film, your eye would go first to the lead horse because it is moving and bigger. Here in the book, the image implies movement. A great deal of commercial photography—especially fashion—uses implied movement to attract the eye.


FIGURE 2.3 Movement. The eye is drawn to movement or, in the case of a still image, the illusion of movement. (Image Credit:

Next, our eye goes to that which is in focus. If everything in the image is in focus, which happens with most smartphone shots, the eye skips to the next lower priority. But, if the focus varies within the image, our eye sees the object that is in focus before anything else, other than movement. This is why so many ads and movies present images where only a small portion of the frame is in focus. It tells the eye where it should look first.

Figure 2.4 illustrates this. The frame is filled with people, but we see the laughing woman first because she is the only one in focus.


FIGURE 2.4 Focus. Why does your eye see the smiling woman first? Because focus is more important than brightness or position. (Image Credit: Rene Asmussen /

Next, the eye goes to that which is different. This is why the black puzzle piece in Figure 2.2 attracted your attention. The entire image was white except for that one piece. Different could be a different gender or color or shape or…well, just about anything. Our eye instantly spots something that is out of place, or different, from the surroundings.

In Figure 2.5, you saw the rectangular color palette first because every other shape in the image was either curved or lighter in color. In other words, the simple difference of the color palette was enough to attract our attention first.


FIGURE 2.5 Difference. Your eye went first to the square of colors because it is different, in shape, color, and size, than anything else in the frame. (Image Credit:

Continuing down our list of priorities, if there’s no movement, everything is in focus, and all the elements are similar, our eye goes to that which is brighter. This explains why so many headlines in digital images are white. White attracts the eye, as you can see in Figure 2.6. (So does black against a white background, as in Figure 2.2, but that’s because black is different compared to the white background, and difference ranks higher.)


FIGURE 2.6 Brighter. Your eye went first to the woman on the left, because she is brighter than anything else in the frame.

In fifth position is size; the eye tends to look at the biggest element in the frame first. In Figure 2.7, as the woman looks back at the camera, she is the largest element in the frame. (She is also in focus, which also helps guide the eye.) We see her first and then look over her shoulder into the room to see what the meeting is about.


FIGURE 2.7 Bigger. Your eye went first to the woman on the left, because she is bigger than anything else in the frame. (Image Credit: Elle Hughes /

In the end, if all else is equal, our eye goes to the object in front. In Figure 2.8, all the men are roughly the same height and size. They are all wearing similar clothes. So, where does our eye go first? To the person in the front.


FIGURE 2.8 In front. Your eye went to the man in front. When other criteria are missing, equal or not relevant, your eye goes to the subject in front. (Image Credit: Clarita Alave /

The Six Priorities are really helpful in understanding how to catch and control the eye of the viewer. The eye doesn’t stop exploring an image after its first look; rather, it explores the image based on the Six Priorities. By designing your image and text with these in mind, you can guide the viewer to see what you want them to see in the order you want them to see it.

Elements of the Six Priorities are rarely used by themselves; combining multiple priorities in the same image drives home where the eye needs to look first. We frequently use a “V” shape when positioning (called “blocking”) actors in dramatic or dance scenes, as you can see in Figure 2.9. Positioning the lead actor or singer at the front of the V, combined with a slightly different—and, often, brighter—costume and increased lighting guarantees that the audience will focus on the person the director wants you to watch, in this case, the lead singer.


FIGURE 2.9 These concepts can be combined. Your eye must go first to the woman in front, because she is also brighter and bigger than any other person in the shot. (Image Credit: Cottonbro /

Our number one goal is to capture and retain the eye of the viewer so that we can deliver our message. Applying the Six Priorities can help you better control where the viewer’s eye will look first, then second, and then third as it checks down elements on the list.

Peachpit Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Peachpit and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Peachpit products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive:

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020