Emphasize Your Subject

January 19, 2016

Emphasize Your Subject

When shooting a photo, I like to keep one question in my mind: what will a viewer see when they look at my image? How have I emphasized my subject?

Because, really, isn't that the whole idea? Beyond the basics of lighting and exposure and composition, the real point of a photo is focusing attention and emphasis on your main subject, the center of interest in the image. So it's important to do what you can to make help someone viewing your photo easily identify the subject of your photo and know what you are trying to show them.

Here are a few ideas.

Eliminate Distractions

Try to get into the habit of taking a quick visual trip around your frame before pressing the shutter button. Check for distractions in the viewfinder. Be sure there's nothing in the viewfinder that you don't want in the final image.

If you notice unwanted elements within the frame, move yourself or your subject to get a better composition. Or change your camera angle–shoot from a higher or lower position–to remove the background distractions.

For example, consider the image below. This would be a really cute photo if it weren't for the distraction of the large red bush behind the little girl's head. She get's lost in the background of the photo.

Photography tip: Emphasize your Subject

Moving the little girl into a seated position removes the distraction and makes for a better, cleaner image.

Photography tip: Emphasize your Subject

Get Close and Fill the Frame

One of the simplest and most effective ways to put the spotlight on your subject is to get close and fill the frame.

When your subject fills the frame of your image, your viewer can't help but notice them. All other distractions are gone and it's all about your subject. This approach directs all of the attention on your subject because there's nothing else there! And the results are simple but dramatic.

The technique is straightforward. You can either use your feet to move physically closer to your subject or you can use your camera's zoom lens to shoot close up.

Photography tip: Emphasize your Subject

Use the Rule of Thirds

Most of the time, you will find that you'll create a stronger image if you avoid putting your subject smack in the middle of the frame. Centered compositions often feel static and fail to draw the viewer in.

Instead, move your subject off center. In particular, look at positioning your subject using the rule of thirds, a simple composition technique that helps to add interest, energy and balance to an image.

To use the rule of thirds, mentally divide your frame into thirds both horizontally and vertically and then place your main subject–or their eyes, if you are shooting a portrait–along these lines and especially at the intersection of these lines.

For an example of this, let's look at the image below where the subject is centered in the frame.

Photography tip: Emphasize your Subject

It’s a nice image, but look how much more appealing the photo becomes when we move the subject off center.

Photography tip: Emphasize your Subject

Selective Focusing

Another way to emphasize your subject is to use a shallow depth of field, where the the center of interest is sharp and clear but the rest of the photo is soft and blurry.

Selectively focusing on your main subject simplifies the image and reduces background distractions. This in turn helps to draw attention to the subject because the sharper focus visually separates that subject from the background. And, as an added bonus, a shallow depth of field adds a 3-d effect to a photo and gives it a professional quality.

Several factors effect depth of field. The depth of field, (also called the depth of focus) gets shorter:

  • …as the focal length of the lens increases,
  • …as the distance to the subject decreases,
  • …and as the aperture size gets larger or, equivalently, as the f/stop number gets smaller.

So zoom in and open that aperture!

In the two photos below, selective focusing makes the image's main subject the undisputed center of attention.

Photography tip: Emphasize your Subject
Photography tip: Emphasize your Subject

Use Leading Lines

Lines can be an effective way to draw attention to the subject of your image.

Lines, curves and shapes, especially those that draw out and extend from the image foreground, can serve as visual elements that lead the viewer's eyes through the landscape of the photo and to your subject.

When composing photos, look for shapes and curves that encourage the eye to wander and meander through the frame to come upon your center of interest.

Photography tip: Emphasize your Subject
Photography tip: Emphasize your Subject

For Further Reading…

Tips To Emphasize Your Subject In Photography

Frame Your Subject With These 5 Unbelievably Easy Tips

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