People Look More Powerful in Photos When Facing Right

People Look More Powerful in Photos When Facing Right

I'm not too sure about this, but maybe it's because most of the images on my Facebook profile that people like are the ones of me looking left but hey, this is science, and it's called Spacial Agency Bias. Simone Schnall is a Director at the Cambridge Embodied Cognition and Emotion Laboratory. She says we all want to look progressive, dynamic, and forward thinking. It's what the social circles, culture, and industry demands. It's also what we want to portray when people see photos of us. 

The basic premise is that it's because of the direction we write in. She states "As we move across the page we progress from what has happened to what is not yet, from what is established to what could still be."

What can be considered as proof lies in the fact that the Arabic and Hebrew cultures people facing left are more powerful and is the reverse of the western languages as base. 

"Thought therefore follows language, in a rather literal sense."

What I don't want this research to do is to make us all let the model or person you are shooting a portrait of to look left for you to shoot them facing right in a literal sense. What I want is for us to think about these concepts of looking progressive, dynamic, and forward-thinking and capture these aspects regardless of the direction the person is looking at. I believe a powerful image is a powerful image, regardless of the direction of the person's face.

She ends off on a very contemporary tone with "the next time you take that selfie make sure it reflects you from the right perspective!"

You can find the complete report here.

[ via Edge]

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6 Comments

Kirk Darling's picture

I think not. It's been long noted that classical painted tended to face their portrait subjects to the left. The most likely reason is the right-handedness of most painters: The painters were under the same light as the subjects, and the light must be from the left or shadow of the painter's arm falls across the work. Therefore, painters arranged their studio subjects with the light to the left, and usually facing the light. The earliest portrait photographers did the same thing, copying painters...except that their direct-image sensitive material showed the scene in reverse...so those subjects were shown facing right. As flash powder later came into use, right-handedness made its impact again: Right-handed photographers held the flash powder tray in their right hands and thus faced their subjects to the camera right to better illuminate the face So the direction painters and photographers faced their subjects was based more on practical concerns, than psychological ones.

Jeroen de Jong's picture

It sound fair what you say.

But.....

How about left-handed painters. Do we see more paintings with light coming from the right?

And if I look at old paintings of painters at work, they usaualy held there brush in a way that there is a minimal of shadow from the brush and the arm isn't in the part they are working on, let alone the shadow of the arm.

Yes, most light comes from (top)-left in old painting. Men are facing right and the light gets harsher and it gives them power. Woman are most of the times facing left, towards the light.

Is the factor facinf left/right based on the importance of a person, on the direction of the light or for another reason (like your example; right handed painters)

Interesting question and I'm starting to wonder why it was always the left where the light was coming from. I can't think of any solution. Your arm/shadow-story makes sense but I don't think their own shadow was a big problem for the painter.

"progressive, dynamic, and forward thinking" is not exactly what "powerful" means...

George Falls's picture

Half length shot, looking left, arms folded. Makes for an even more imposing looking male.
The same pose with a female, not so dynamic.
However, kids of either sex can pull it off, usually to comedic effect.
Strange old world... In'it :-)

Hmmmm. What I have heard is that people look more powerful facing right, as our eyes scan over the image left to right, and thus 'hit' the face, rather than flowing over it when they are facing right.

This sounds like much ado about nothing to me -- I'd love to see the research. To the extent it is true, though, there's a confounding factor: Should the subject face to the subject's right, or the viewer's right? If power comes from a right-left orientation, wouldn't we be accustomed to the subject facing to our (viewer) left instead of right? Conversely, if the subject faces viewer right, isn't that person less powerful facing own left?

Another confounding factor is that per research quoted by Peter Hurley, slightly more than half the population's best side is the left side, which means you face them right (viewer left) to show their best look. You really see this in some images -- do a picture search of President Kennedy, for instance. IMO, he looks better and more powerful facing his right (viewer left), and the majority of images (in Google) have him facing that way.