Composition: the Focal Point

  • Pattern name: the Focal Point (a.k.a. Subject)
  • Problem or question: What is the main character or element in the image?
  • Visual element: A single object, an animal, a person, a bunch or group, a gesture
  • Solution: A single primary element must fill great part the frame or attracts the eyes attention over all of its surroundings. This element is considered the subject, the focal point of the image. But being its main character, does not mean the subject is «sharp» or in focus. The use of the «focal» term refers to the quality of being the principal or center of the attention, not its sharpness.
  • Technical implementation: If the image uses only a main subject, it’s convenient to use a very shallow depth-of-field. No matter the position of the subject, you can select the focus on it and let the other planes of the images out of focus. Multiple subjects in different planes requires the opposite. To show motion, the panning technique is very common: the subject is frozen while the surroundings shows the motion blur.
  • Variants: For large pictures, you could use a «Composite» of this principle. That is: the image would have multiple scenes, with different main characters. It’s very common in panoramic photos showing a lot of buildings or persons. Or in pictures with multiple layers, when every layer (at least foreground, middle-ground and background) have a main distinguishable character.

A good, meaningful, picture should have at least one clear focal point. When you don’t put some distinguishable element in the frame, the frame will seem a background, and empty scenario. On the contrary, when you put too many dispersed elements that attracts attention, the eyes go back and forward, trying to grasp a single point to rest. Both, no focal point, or too separate points of attention, repels the interest and the taste of the viewer. In a picture, you want the viewers to concentrate, one, two, ten minutes, exploring the visual layout of the frame. You want they re-visit the image again and again, trying to gather as much meaning as possible. Image without a main character, or noisy, multitudinous, images with disparate, separate elements can’t retain the attention too much. The viewer lost the focus: «see» too much, but «observe» nothing.

It is important not notice that I used the terms «dispersed», «disparate», and «separate», referring to the images with too many incoherent elements. A group of similar or well-cohesive elements can be used as a single point of view, and then as a valid subject. That is why a family, a sport team, a hienas horde, or a repeatable pattern photo could be pleasant to see: the elements are visually compact, similar, cohesive, harmonious.

Examples:

King Chess Piece: Single Element
King Chess Piece: Single Element

In the high-contrast image of this chess piece the single element functions clearly as the main character or subject. That’s the same with portraiture pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

Groups: Complex, but Cohesive Subject
Groups: Complex, but Cohesive Subject

A group of persons or objects (mountains, trees) very cohesive or in formation might function perfectly as your main character. The complexity of the group might include some distinguishable elements among them, as in the case of this photo. The priest in front, looking directly to the camera, and showing 3/4 of his body, separates a little from the rest of the people.

 

 

 

 

Conclusions:

The Focal point is a simple guide that helps another principle or pattern: simplicity. For starters, concentrating in a single elements encourage to fill the frame with a main character, and separate clearly what it is important in an image from the background. Once you are used to split your surroundings by separate focal points, you can manage or create the stage for coherent and cohesive contents with a pleasant layout.

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