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| p.1 #5 · Another try, hopefully this is better |
A photo can have one or several focal points.
If there is only one then the goal compositionally is usually to pull the viewer to it from the edges of the frame then stop them there. Photos where there is a single focal point and other distracting stuff in the frame become multiple focal point shots, even though that's not what the photographer had in mind.
The failure to see distractions when shooting in a function of the brain tunneling in attention on whatever is being focused on and in the center of the visual field. So when shooting the photo of the wife you don't notice the tree behind that in the photo appears to be sprouting out of her head. With a scenic or shot like this flowers you the photographer know what you wanted as the focal point so when looking at it that's what you will stay focused on. A stranger like me will be drawn first to whatever contrasts the most and is closest where I enter the frame, but then not knowing what other photographic gems are hidden in the frame will wander off that focal point to search for them. If the photographer puts the contrasting focal point on one side of the frame I'll either see it first and then wander off into the other context in the photo, or scan over the context first, but not really focus attention on it en route to the contrasting focal point.
The trick in composing a shot where there is a lot of negative space around a contrasting focal point is that even if the viewer initially skips qucikly over it to find the contrasting focal point they will wander back into the negative space after getting tired of looking at the focal point. Winding up at the other edge of the frame not having seen anything more interesting than the focal point the exit, wondering why the photographer composed the shot in a way that dragged them into an uninteresting corner or out the side or top of the frame.
The solution to that problem is cropping. When a focal point is cropped tightly the viewer has nowhere else to go. With the crop you create the window the viewer must see the scene though. The ideal amount of space around a focal point is bit like a dog. If a dog wanders too far from home it won't be able to find it's way back. So for a single focal point photo the ideal balance is enough background context for the viewer to understand where the focal point is (i.e., in a natural setting on a tree or a vase on a table) but not in a way that will cause the viwer's eye to wander off and not come back.
There are many situations and scenes where you might want the viewer to wander off a primary focal point to find others. For example if you put hands in a portrait after finding the face the viewer will wander down the leading line of the arm to check out what the hands are doing. But after looking at the hands an effective composition will give the viewer's eye a path up the other arm back to the face, the main focal point. With something like flowers or other still life objects flower arrangers and decorators know that groups of odd number objects work better than even numbers. When there are two flowers in an arrangement far apart the eye will ping-ping between them, but if there are three in a triangle pattern the eye will travel in a circle and wind up back at the one which contrasts the most with the background in tone, color, size, sharpness, etc.
Before you take the photo you need to decide if you want one focal point or several. If one then you should compose the shot in a way that isolates it and leaves the viewer no option to go somewhere else so their first and last impression is the focal point. If you decide to create more complex story within the photo with multiple focal points you need to decide which to make dominant in terms of contrast with the background and how to create a path the viewer will follow to find the others. It a process of trying to guess where the viewer will go first, second, and third in the photo and whether or not you want them to come back again and again to the main focal point. The more it contrasts from the background and the other less important focal points the more likely that is to happen.
The movement of the eye between multiple focal point translates into a sensation of motion. If the veiwers eye is tracking in a smooth circle between focal points then the photo will seem harmonious. but if two focal points are on opposite sides of the frame the eyes, darting back and forth across, will made the viewers brain think the two are in conflict like a ping-pong match. Both are effective ways to compose a photo depending on whether the reaction you want to create in the mind of the viewer.
A simple way to train your eye to see the photo like a stranger will process it is to crop it very tight on the main focal point mentaly when planning the composition and expand the frame outward. As more and more background context enters the frame ask whether it adds value to the story and whether it will frame and lead the viewer to the focal point or distract them away from it. If the latter is the conttrast of the main focal point strong enough and close enough to pull them back to it? If you think in those terms you'll learn to spot and eliminate distractions which dilute the emotional impact of seeing the focal point. If your intented focal point isn't the first thing the viewer gravitates to and the spot they keep coming back to naturally it's an indication the photo could be composed more effectively.
Given that input try recropping your shots to pull the viewer to your desired focal point and keep them there.