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Let’s Talk Focal Points

Posted on Apr 24, 2013 by

I am back and ready to share photo composition ideas every Wednesday!  So…

Let’s talk focal points.

What would you say the focal point is of these next 2 photos?

Home Flower Shoot-245
Ideal Farm shoot-005

The focal point in the top photo is a little ambiguous because there are parts of several flowers and all of it is in focus.  Your eye has a hard time settling anywhere.  The focal point in the bottom photo is quite obvious…its the barn.  In a well composed photo, your eye needs a place to settle or rest, it needs to have a primary subject.  That’s what a focal point is. The more interesting the focal point, the better.

Focal points can be created and enhanced by its:

  • position
  • focus
  • size
  • color

Let’s look at each one.

POSITION  Back in January, I talked about the Rule of Thirds where you position your focal point on one of the four points where the lines on a tic tac toe grid meet. That is the position that is most pleasing to the eye and great for your focal point.  Additonally, the photo of the barn above works well for position because it fills the frame and it is at an angle and not straight on.  An angle is more pleasing to the eye and more interesting.  However, there is always an exception and sometimes a straight -on, prominent, centered subject can be most effective.

FOCUS  This is the one I like to play with the most!  You can direct the viewer’s eye by using selective focus on the focal point and all the rest of the photo is blurred.  I do this with the Aperture wide open (small f-stop) and in Aperture mode.  In the following 3 photos you see first the red pepper in focus, then the orange pepper, and finally the green pepper with all its blemishes!

Vegetable shoot-004 Vegetable shoot-002 Vegetable shoot-001SIZE  Obviously, the larger the subject you want to use as your focal point is, the better as far as drawing your eye to it.  Again, this can be seen in the photo of the barn above.  Also, if you have 2 “competing” subjects and you want to make one of them the focal point, make sure it is larger than the other.  You can see this in the following photo I took up at Big Sky Ski Resort in Montana.  I actually wanted the building to be the focal point but the mountain in the background adds to the photo showing the context of the photo but does not distract from the building.

Big Sky Trip-009

COLOR  Finally, using contrasting colors can set your focal point apart.  And again, the barn above is a good example of this and also shows how red is a “wow” color in photos.  It always pops out among other colors near it.

A combination of the above elements can work well together.  But remember that too many focal points can create chaos and confuse the eye!

The following links will give you more information on focal points and composition in general and give you some books to check out that are available in both Kindle and print at

Thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed this article please leave a comment below and consider following my blog to get e-mail updates or in a reader.  If you enjoy my photos they are on sale at my SmugMug Store.




  1. A Unique Plant in a Hotel Lobby - [...] the lobby of the main hotel at Big Sky Ski Resort in Montana.  I used the principals I discussed…

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