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

Using Focal Points in Photography: negative space

Using Focal Points in Photography: leading the eye

Using Focal Points in Photography: leading the eye

The strong converging vertical lines in this architectural shot draw attention to the sunlit tower, and the outline of the building on the right acts as a frame .

Lines are a very powerful compositional device – probably the most powerful – and you can use them to point towards or highlight your image’s focal point.

(By the same token, of course, you have to take care that they don’t conflict with or direct attention away from your subject.)

Any line can be used to lead the viewer’s eye into the frame and towards your focal point, but the effect is multiplied by converging lines, which also introduce a sense of perspective – of moving into a three-dimensional space.

This highlights the way all these rules of composition constantly interact. In practise you seldom get to work with one at a time.

You’ll often find yourself trying to place objects on thirds, find a viewpoint that produces the right background and manage any strong lines in the composition so that they lead towards the focal point and not away from it.

It’s often not possible – particularly in the time most of us have available for composing shots – to consciously juggle all these variables, but by practising each of them individually you do develop an eye that teaches you to make these compositional decisions unconsciously and quickly.

There’s a lot of crossover between what we’re saying here about using lines to lead the viewer’s eye towards the photograph’s focal point, and what we said about lines back in chapter three.

And we’ll re-iterate our suggestion that you take a sheet of tracing paper and map out the main lines of movement you see in some of your favourite photos.

Don’t just copy over the outlines – try to sketch the way your eyes move around the shot.

Note also the implied movement we discussed in the previous section. This can have as much compositional impact as real lines.

For example, it’s one of the cardinal sins to have someone just about to walk out of the edge of a shot because the viewer’s eye tends to follow them out.

But if there’s someone walking into the frame at that same point, this can produce a countering movement that keeps your attention within the frame.

This is a complex area that could tie you in knots if you try to get into it too deeply.

At the same time, if you can develop an awareness of eye movements and how to control them (these home-made diagrams really help), then you’ve got a much better chance of directing your viewer’s attention to the main focal point and keeping it there.

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


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