Focal points are important factors in photographs, as it gives the viewer a location within the frame to place their eyes. Focal points give people a subject of interest and keep them drawn to your photograph. A focal point can consist of literally anything. From foreground pools of water, a sun setting behind distant mountains, a fence line tailoring off into the distance, or even the grin of a cheeky monkey.
So, before you click that shutter button, make sure to take time and think about what your focal point will be for your shot. When you’ve decided on what you want the image to focus on, go about composing the rest of the image to supplement this point and lead the viewer’s eye to it.
Here are some tips to using focal points in images:
Low depth of field: This is a great way to enhance your focal point. Using a open aperture like f/2.8 (or lower) to focus on your subject, making it sharp with your background blurred out of focus. This technique is typically used with portrait and wildlife photography.
Place on a third: While this method isn’t always necessary, it can go a long way in making the focal point in a pleasing area of the frame for people to look at. Too much in the centre, or too close to the edge, can be distracting.
Shutter speed: Certain focal points and elements (such as an approaching wave), can be enhanced with the modification of the camera’s shutter speed. Instead of having everything tack sharp with a fast shutter speed, perhaps slow it down and introduce some motion to make it a feature in the photo.
Size matters: While you don’t want your focal point to be overbearingly big in the frame, detracting away from everything else, you don’t want it to be too small either as this will make it hard for the viewer’s eye to natively hunt down. Use your lens’s zoom ring (or use your feet) to get the appropriate telefocal length of your overall image, and get your subject the size you want it.
Colour difference: Is your subject interesting due to it’s different (or stand out) colours? If so, use this to your advantage and contrast your subject against a completely different colour, or a colourless background. The viewer’s eye will naturally be drawn to this. However, if you do contrast your subject against a different colour, make sure that background colour isn’t overwhelming, as it will overpower your subject.
Simplify the image: Minimising the image goes a long way to making your subject stand out. If the image is cluttered with too much going on, it can make it difficult for the viewer to find a place to rest their eyes. Less is often more. So use space wisely, remove confusion and unnecessary objects within the frame and compose the shot so only the objects within the frame go towards enhancing the shot, disregarding those that don’t.
It’s also possible to have more than one focal point in your shot. Strategically placing them by having one in the foreground leading to another in the background, can often work quite effectively to utilise all of the space within the frame. Be Careful not to have too many though, as it could quickly become distracting. Less is often more.