What’s the focal point in your photograph? If you don’t know then you’d better make your mind up because until you know, it’s going to be very difficult to plan the composition of your pictures effectively.
And while photographs may be static snapshots in time, you still need to make room for the implied movement that many subjects suggest. We’ll also explain the idea of negative space and how this affects your focal point.
To help emphasise the composition and focal points of each image, we’ve used black and white photos for the purposes of this tutorial.
Using Focal Points in Photography: focal position
Every photograph needs a focal point. This is the object or the area we want the viewer to be looking at.
You need to work out what this focal point is before you even press the shutter release, because it’s crucial to the whole composition and making the different elements in the scene work together.
This is a very basic photographic decision. What’s your photograph about? What do you want people to notice or appreciate?
If you don’t know, you’re not thinking like a photographer and you’re just going to end up with snapshots rather than pictures you can hang on your wall.
And once you’ve identified this focal point – it might be someone’s face, a famous landmark, a summer meadow – there’s another fundamental decision to be made: where should you put it in the frame?
Our first instinct is usually to put our subject right in the centre, and for some shots this is the only sensible choice.
One obvious example is a single, circular bloom. To place this off-centre in a photograph will leave the composition looking unbalanced and contrived.
The same applies to portrait shots – if the only thing in the frame is your model’s face, the only place to put it is in the middle.
But this does seem to contradict the Rule of Thirds (outlined previously), which says subjects should be placed on a horizontal or vertical third rather than dead centre.
This is one of those grey areas, which highlights the fact that photographic composition can’t be applied like a science.
The fact is that for many subjects, the only common-sense decision is to place the subject in the centre, regardless of what the Rule of Thirds might say.
In the meantime, we’re left with a dilemma. Do we apply the Rule of Thirds or not? Or perhaps we can refine it so it still fits with what we’ve said about composition…
Indeed we can. A single bloom should probably go in the centre of the frame. But if there are other objects in the scene, say another smaller, more distant flower, this is the time to implement the Rule of Thirds.
So, we might need to suspend the Rule of Thirds with very simple compositions consisting of a single object, but it still applies when we’re arranging a number of different items within the frame.
PAGE 1 – Using Focal Points in Photography: focal position
PAGE 2 – Using Focal Points in Photography: movement
PAGE 3 – Using Focal Points in Photography: breaking the rules
PAGE 4 – Using Focal Points in Photography: leading the eye
PAGE 5 – Using Focal Points in Photography: negative space
PAGE 6 – Using Focal Points in Photography: exposure issues
How to compose a photograph: see images where you never saw them before
How to use a camera: exposure modes made simple
99 common photography problems (and how to solve them)
15 common photography questions from beginners (and how to solve them)