Tone Theory: How to Direct Your Viewers Eye Through Your Image The power of the viewer navigation map

In this video, Blake Rudis from f64 Academy looks at the idea of tone theory and how important it is to create uniquely compelling images.

How to direct your Viewers Eye through your Image

You can shoot a great image but if you don’t know how to engage your viewer’s focus though it can be just one of a million other “nice” images. Making it truly stand out involves a process that Rudis explains in this video as part of his tone theory.

Rudis starts this video with a look back at paintings. Some of the classic masters knew exactly how to guide the eye along their paintings drawing it in a line or a circle through the more important parts.

Although there are obvious differences between a painting and a picture taken by a camera when it comes to guiding the eye – they are very similar since our brains look at them in a similar way.

By analyzing several images Rudis shows us how you can find the way in which the eye wanders around the image. The only question is how you can take this understanding and apply it to your own photography.

Create and Use a viewer navigation map

The basic idea is fairly simple, add a black and white adjustment layer and beneath it add a posterize layer. You can download an action the Photoshop action which creates the tone navigation map.

According to Rudis there are 3 main components to every photo:

  1. Composition – How the subjects in the image are arranged and positioned.
  2. Tone – the balance between dark and light parts of the image.
  3. Color – how color is expressed (or absent) in the image.

What Rudis explains is that with an image you tell a story and this story is directly linked to the tonality of the image as it helps (and if done wrong can hinder) the way people can understand the story. For example, Rudis presents a picture of a  man who is an aircraft technician and he was photographed with the background of an aircraft.

By analyzing the image with the tone navigation map you can see that the two things that you see in the image are the technician and the skies and the story he wanted to tell is that without the technician the aircraft could not take to the skies.

You can change the number of levels and these will tell you more about what the viewer will see as he or she glances more over the picture. This technique is good for any type of image, portrait, landscape etc. and you apply the same technique to all of them.

It is important to understand that shooting in-camera for this type of look can be difficult (especially when you don’t have total control of the light) but with image manipulation tools like the ones in Photoshop it can be done in post and this is how Rudis does that. This can be done with vignette, dodging and burning, and other tools as well but it needs to be done as part of the storytelling that is the work of the photographer.

You can find many more Photoshop video tutorials on LensVid’s Photoshop section. We have published several articles covering videos by Rudis which you can find here.

Iddo Genuth
Iddo Genuth is the founder and chief editor of He has been a technology reporter working for international publications since the late 1990's and covering photography since 2009. Iddo is also a co-founder of a production company specializing in commercial food and product visual content.

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