Some scenes are simply too interesting. When you have two points of interest that compete for attention, you often end up with a problem. Which one should take precedence? Can both visual focal points share the attention, or does one of them need to be the attention hog? It can be a difficult decision to make, which is the reason why I’ve put this short guide together. With it, you’ll figure out how to adjust your photos ever so slightly to create the compelling focus you want.
This Funny Little Quirk Of The Human Mind
I’m not sure what it is, but there is something funny about the way we humans are wired. Just look at the image above. It’s easy to tell what the primary focal point is. It’s the boy with the icy pole. The secondary focal point, logic would tell us, is the smaller boy. Now have a look at the next image.
I don’t mean to compare apples to oranges here, but you probably found the first photo a little more interesting. Why is that? Oddly enough, it’s just the way our visual system works. We like it when there’s a lot of contrast between two different subjects or focal points. If two focal points are the exact same shape, the image is simply too balanced to get our attention.
This is the problem you will always run into whenever your images have too many visual focal points. They appear dull because too much is going on. Everything is so busy that you can’t focus on a single theme.
It’s okay to have more than one visual focal point. In fact, it can work quite well in a photo. You just have to do it a certain way. The second focal point can’t hog all of the attention. If it does, you get something that isn’t too different from the apple and orange picture above. Equality is all well and good in the free world, but it simply doesn’t work in photography (in most cases).
Find Supporting Actors And Small Roles
Whenever you are framing an image that carries the risk of being a little too busy, try to find ways to give your competing subject a supporting role. One way you can do this is to use a fairly open aperture to get a lot of detail from your primary subject while de-emphasizing the other subjects. The following photo is an example of this technique.
You still have three competing focal points, but the other two aren’t as detailed as the child in the front. Your eye will focus on him first, and then it will move back to the blurry child and teacher.
If you want to know a little more about how this effect was created, I have a course on Depth of Field that explains how to use your camera's aperture setting. You can use this to your advantage, blurring out some of the background to create certain effects.
This photo would illustrate our 'focal points' point just as well if the background weren’t blurred out. The blur simply emphasizes the child in the front.
There are other ways to put more emphasis on your primary subject. You could also use a wideangle lens and get up really close. Your primary subject will grow while everything else shrinks. You don’t have to do this to a ridiculous extent. You just need to do it enough to throw off the perfect balance between your competing subjects.
Remember this. Equality belongs in politics and the workplace. It doesn’t do so well in photography. There are a few cases where you can break the rule, but it usually isn’t between one primary subject and another. Have a second look at the last photo. The two secondary subjects are nearly equally emphasized, and that’s O.K.
How are you drawing emphasis to the most important part of your images? I’d love to see it! Send me your images, and I might do a roundup of a few interesting contrasts I find.
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