Using focal points in photography: how to get perfect composition every time

Using Focal Points in Photography: negative space

Using Focal Points in Photography: movement

Using Focal Points in Photography: implied movement

This composition relies partly on the Rule of Thirds but also on the fact that your main subject needs space to look or move into.

If you prefer your rules of photo composition based on clear-cut mathematical formulae, you’re going to find this one uncomfortably vague.

It’s all to do with implied movement – a very important concept, even though photographs might appear to be completely static snapshots in time.

Many photographs contain some kind of implied movement. The objects obviously aren’t moving as you look at them in the photograph, but it’s clear that a pedestrian was walking, for example, at the time you took the picture; that an athlete caught mid-hurdle will hit the ground with their feet a moment later; or that a speeding Formula One car that’s been frozen by the camera is nevertheless hurtling towards the next corner at 200 miles per hour.

Where there is this kind of implied movement, the composition may well look  uncomfortable if there’s not a little space for the object to move into.

We’re happier if we can see the track where the hurdler’s foot is about to land; if a pedestrian’s about to walk into a doorway, we prefer to see the door.

And it’s better to have more space in front of the Formula One car than there is behind it. Our minds like to mentally extrapolate the movement implied in our photographs.

There is also another kind of implied movement that’s rather less literal, and it’s the direction of gaze of any people in the photograph.

If they’re looking at something, we’re kind of interested in what it is they’re looking at.

Quite apart from that, though, there needs to be space within the composition for their gaze to move into. This is another kind of movement we need to allow for when framing the photograph.

It’s very difficult to offer any precise rules for this – it’s rather like balancing shapes and tones in a photograph, in that you really have to do it by eye and instinct.

There are one or two generalisations you can make in portraiture, though.

First, if the subject isn’t looking directly at the camera but slightly to one side, you’ll probably need to place their head slightly off-centre in the opposite direction to their gaze – they need space to look into.

The other is that subjects not in the centre of the frame should nevertheless be looking towards the centre. But like all rules, this one’s just begging to be broken.

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


Banish Bad Pictures: 9 quick fixes for common camera complaints
10 reasons your photos aren’t sharp (and how to fix them)
New camera anatomy: 12 key camera settings to get you started right
24 camera features every beginner must memorize