How To Use Visual Focal Points To Enhance Your Photography :: Digital Photo Secrets

How To Use Visual Focal Points To Enhance Your Photography

by David Peterson 8 comments

Visual focal points are everywhere in great photography and art. It’s impossible to produce outstanding images without them. The funny thing about visual focal points is that you don’t even know they are there. They simply tie everything together and make you say “WOW.” But if you’re going to take your photography to the next level, you will want to know how to spot them and create them in your own work. Are you ready to know how?

So, what is a visual focal point? Well, have a look at the picture of the apples above. I’m gonna guess that the first apple you looked at was the red one. Am I right? That’s because the red apple is the only differently colored apple in the picture. If all of the apples were red, and one of them was green, your eye would naturally gravitate toward the green one.

Visual Focal Points Happen When You Create Contrast

Most visual points tend to occur in the areas of the photo that have the highest contrast. In this case, the red contrasts with the green in the photo. In other photos, it might be a person’s face standing out against the sky, a tall building that rises above the cityscape, or a brightly colored insect out on a limb.

Can an image have more than one focal point? Absolutely. This usually happens in photos where a larger subject dominates a slightly smaller subject. Here’s an example.

Most of the photo is a single dull blue color, but the two fish are a nice bright orange. The bigger fish is the main visual focal point while the smaller one is more of a secondary focal point. As your eye takes in this photo, you naturally move from the bigger fish to the smaller one, examining the details in between.

How To Create Visual Focal Points Of Your Own

The best way to create visual focal points is to isolate your subject. The fish photo is a great example. The photographer could have put a bunch of other things in the background, but he chose to keep it simple. Nothing else in the image is taking your attention away from the two fish. It’s completely uncluttered. Another great example is the cross below. It's isolated from the sky by the silhouette.

It really helps when your subject is a different color than the background. Certain background are easier to work with. A blue sky is a definite go-to for creating visual focal points because it is a single color and nothing else. A dense bush might not be such a good choice because it’s a dark and complicated mix of colors. Whatever you are photographing will need to be very bright and colorful in order for it to work.

It’s also a good idea to pay attention to the rule of thirds when you are creating visual focal points. The fish photograph uses the rule of thirds quite well. The big fish occupies the upper left third while the small fish resides in the lower right third.

If you aren’t familiar with the rule of thirds, it’s pretty simple. Just try to place your main subject somewhere near the lower, upper, left, or right thirds of the scene. When you do this, it tends to transform your subject into a visual focal point. Now you’re getting the hang of composition.

You can have as many visual focal points in your image as you want, but realize that you start to hit an upper limit after you add too many. Remember, the red apple in the first picture is only a visual focal point because it stands out against the green apples. If you were to add in a yellow apple, another red apple, and an orange, the same red apple simply wouldn’t have as big of an impact. Always consider this.

Happy Shooting!

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  1. Mercia says:

    Hi David,

    Thank you so much for this as well as all your posts. You always explain things in a way that makes it easy to understand! I have read the same information before but never understood until I read yours on visual weight .... Just love receiving these -
    please don't stop.

    Best regards

    • Michael: Trinidad and Tobago W.I says:

      Hi David Many thanks for your very intesting articles. It has made my hobby so much more challenging. Keep up the good work.

  2. Mike says:

    Terrific website, so useful for an amateur like me! I also read your post on visual weight. Wouldn't you say that the photo of the goldfish is unbalanced?

  3. Robert Lester says:

    Thanks David, it makes sense to me, and well constructed dialog,

  4. Janelle Gabrielle Spencer says:


  5. janelle says:

    I love this so much. Keep up the good work :)

  6. victor aninyei says:

    Thanks for explaining the rule of the thirds so simply and the visual focal point

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