Image Composition and Meaning

In the article “Reading Images” Kress and Leeuwen discuss how an image’s composition can reveal a great deal about its meaning. Subtle placement of images and their relation to other objects or the image as whole, play a significant role in creating meaning. The three relationships that Kress and Leeuwen address are the left and right arrangement and the top and bottom arrangement, as well as the dimensions of centre and margin.

Given and New

The left and right arrangement places “given” objects on the left portion of the image. It is assumed that the reader has prior knowledge of the image or information placed on left, while the right side of the image presents information that may be new to the reader. This construction has a natural flow and follows the left to right movement of reading texts, which is common in many cultures.

Ideal and Real

The top and bottom relationship is perhaps most apparent in advertisements. The “promise of a product” or ideal is placed at the top of an image while the bottom portion is devoted to the actual physical product.


In this advertisement, little space is devoted the actual product that is being sold. It is difficult to glamorize a perfume bottle and even more challenging to make it appealing to men. The promise of sexual desires is flashier and perhaps more desirable to male consumers.

Centre and Margin

Placing one object at the center of an image focuses the viewer’s attention directly to the central object. This eye-catching arrangement is commonly used for webpage layouts as seen on the front page of the Huffington Post:


Arranging an image’s composition certainly requires careful planning on the part of the producer, especially when an image is used as a tool to spread a message and reach a broad audience. However, to what extent do these arrangements effect they way we interpret images? Is the meaning self-contained within an image regardless of what side of the frame an object occupies? Does composition have a greater impact on the aesthetics or the meaning of an image?



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