In this article, we’ll cover different aspects of focal points in photography composition — from colors and contrast to sharpness and depth of field.
In the realm of fine art, the focal point is defined as a point of interest that makes a work of art unique. In photographic terms, a focal point can broadly be seen as a photographer’s point of view.
Think, for a moment, about how drastically different a photo can become depending upon what you choose to focus on. If you’re taking a portrait photo of a woman, you can focus on her earring, her hands or her face — and each of these creative decisions will yield drastically different end results.
Focal points in photography composition are one of the aspects that draw your viewer into the photo — that intrigue — excite — and allow for interpretation. So, we’ve put together some tips and tricks to help you on your quest to understanding this concept and to allow it to aid in your creation of beautiful images!
Colors and Contrast
Focal points typically occur in the areas of the picture that have the highest contrast. Perhaps you’ve taken a photo of a snorkeler in clear waters — he’ll stand out against the water. Or a bright flower in an otherwise dull open field — that will stand out, too.
Photos can also have more than one focal point. Our eyes may be drawn to a larger subject (like a deep green cactus in desert landscape shot) but upon further investigation, we may notice a smaller secondary focal point that provides important details to the scene as well (like a person drinking water in the distance).
Colors also play a dramatic role in how focal points are perceived. If a stop sign is freshly painted in a thick coat of vibrant red, it’s going to stand out more than an old sign that’s a dull and somewhat muted red. Your setting and the objects of that setting can greatly alter and enhance your focal points.
Sharpness and Depth of Field
Your focal point is your way of expressing what you are hoping to convey in your photo. As such, the focal point tends to be sharp and clear. Think, for example, if you are taking a photo of a brick building with a yellow door and a dumpster in the corner. If you want the yellow door to be your point of focus and to help you create your concept, you want to make sure that door is clear (rather than, say, having the trash in the dumpster be clear).
With regards to depth of field, a limited depth of field will put an emphasis on your focal point. In comparison, if your photo is the same from the foreground to the background, your focal point will be less noticeable.
Experimenting with Focal Points
If you want to experiment with creating your own focal points, try isolating your subject. Keep things simple and uncluttered so that your focal point of choice has the viewer’s undivided attention. Play with colors, like we mentioned above. For example, a bright coral pineapple print pillow on a white couch will stand out more than a cream-colored pillow on that same white couch.
The Rule of Thirds
Keeping the rule of thirds in mind is good when it comes to experimenting with focal points, too. If you aren’t familiar, don’t fear! It’s a very simple concept that consists of placing your main subject somewhere near the lower, upper, left or right third of your photo scene. As you do this, your subject will become the focal point.
So, as with many aspects of photography, the focal point in photography composition has a lot to do with your own particularly unique view as the photographer.
What is it that you hope to convey? What do you want your photo, or your subject, to represent to the viewer and their perception of your artwork?
In the end, focal point as it relates to composition is up to your mind, your eye, your actions and your vision.
From all of us at Machpun, enjoy the experiment and as always, have fun!