What is the difference between a snapshot and a great image? A snapshot is when you use the camera to capture what you see; a great image is when you make the viewer see what you want them to see. You do this by creating a focal point within the picture, and it is something that professional photographers are masters at.
Do you ever notice that your eye is drawn to a specific area when you look at a good image? That it seems certain things will almost jump out of the picture at you? This is no accident – it means that the artist has employed one of a few proven techniques to “force” your focus to that point – and you can easily use the same techniques in your photography.
This week's Advanced Challenge theme is "Tell a story using Rule of 3rds", so it seems a good time for a brief discussion of this and other Focal Point techniques.
Rule of Thirds
The most useful and effective of these techniques is to deploy the Rule of Thirds. Draw two imaginary lines across the image to divide the picture into three areas vertically. Then do the same to divide into three regions horizontally. The points of intersection of these lines are natural focal points. Place any part of your subject on those intersections and they will become the focus of the image. Placing the subject along the lines will help bring them into focus as well. This is such a popular technique that many camera viewfinders now “draw” those lines for you.
Creative use of focus is another way to draw the eye to elements. When shooting with shallow depth of field, you can choose which area will be in clear focus and which will result in a bit of blur. The eye is naturally drawn to the area in focus.
There is a reason we hide in shadows, it’s because we naturally look to the light. This same concept is true for images, so “spotlight” the areas you want to emphasize and hide what you don’t in the dark.
The eye will always be drawn to bright colors, and this is a great technique to creatively utilize. Show one flower red in a sea of yellow, or selectively desaturate some areas to make other ones pop.
An object repeated over and over will stand out clearly at the subject of the image. Use a row of animals all pointing in one direction to make the viewer naturally look in that direction. Or have one object different in a field of repetition to draw attention to the unique.
Our focus will naturally be lead down a line in a picture. This is especially true if two lines converge off to the distance. Use that conversion point to position your subject for maximum effects.
Size does matter in an image, and we will always look first to the object that is the biggest in the scene. Use this creatively to position small objects closer to the camera making them appear disproportionately big.
Similar to repeating patterns, the eye will naturally be drawn to something reflecting in water or on shiny surfaces.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s ….. Regardless of what it is, it will be the focal point if it appears to have motion. A blur across the field, or panning to keep the subject in focus while blurring the background, is another sound technique.
The use of other objects in an image to create a natural frame around the subject is a final way to draw attention. This can be accomplished using things a simple as two tree branches or as accessible as a models hands – the trick is just to box in the desired element.
So the next time you grab your camera – stop to think about where you want the viewer to focus in the scene you are shooting. Then employ these simple techniques to “trick” the eye into seeing exactly what you want them to see – and create an image like the pros.