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Center of Interest

Also called the "center of focus" or the "focal point".


The baby's face, the obvious center of interest, is placed according to the Rule of Thirds
The baby's face, the obvious center of interest, is placed according to the Rule of Thirds

The success of most photographs depends on there being one dominant aspect, known as the center of interest (sometimes referred to as the center of focus or the focal point). All good pictures have a center of interest, a point that draws the eye's attention.

Some images have a natural center of interest, like the baby's face in the image at left. Identifying and properly placing the center of interest is paramount to the composition of a successful picture.

Some images require the photographer's input to reveal the center of interest to the viewer. If there is one word that can properly convey what a photographer should think about when considering how to make an object the center of interest, it is the word "emphasize." By placing emphasis on an object in a scene, you can make it the center of interest. Emphasis in a picture can reveal a photographer's personal point of view, showing what is important to you that others may not have seen.


IDENTIFY THE CENTER OF INTEREST BEFORE YOU AIM THE CAMERA

In many cases, the center of interest will be obvious, but in others it will be harder to determine. You will have to use your acumen, sense of observation and understanding of what is going on in the scene to quickly figure out which detail the eye must be led to for your picture to properly tell its story.

This important detail is the center of interest.

It is this that you must emphasize, which you can usually achieve by applying the rules of composition. Then, to make a truly great picture, all the other elements of the scene will also be arranged by you, as the photographer, to be in harmony and balance.

The eye is drawn to the balancing rock not only by converging lines in the scene, but by its placement in the frame and separation from the background.
The eye is drawn to the balancing rock not only by converging lines in the scene, but by its placement in the frame and separation from the background.

You can't miss the center of interest here. Everything else is black. Placement in the frame contributes to the mood as well as the graphic interest of the image.
You can't miss the center of interest here. Everything else is black. Placement in the frame contributes to the mood as well as the graphic interest of the image.

CENTER OF INTEREST AND SUBJECT ARE NOT THE SAME

Most of us confuse “subject” with “center of interest,” and often use the two interchangeably. In fact, "subject" has two meanings in photography - the person or thing being photographed, and the topic of the photography. As a topic, the subject of a photograph may be an election campaign, whereas the center of interest may be the candidate, or it may be a member of the audience who is demonstrating against the candidate. The center of interest could also be a scuffle that breaks out in the audience, and your task in recording it as a photographer would be to shoot the scene so that your eye leads to the scuffle, but so that it remains obvious that the subject is still the election campaign.

However, "subject" is so commonly used today to refer to a scene's center of interest, especially when it is a person, that few people make the distinction between the two. The center of interest in a portrait, for example, is almost always the subject's eyes.


TRAIN YOURSELF TO IDENTIFY THE CENTER OF INTEREST

When a scene attracts you enough that you want to photograph it, determine what it is that interests you the most. This simple process will go a long way towards improving your photographs.

Thinking “Well, I’m shooting a barn” is not enough. Ask yourself what is it about the barn that appeals to you? Its immensity? Its age? Its unusual color? The texture of its old wood? Its unusual location? Its construction style? Its setting? The way it stands out against its backdrop?

Once you have identified the center of interest, you are equipped to concentrate on capturing it - emphasizing it - so that others will immediately see it in your picture, and understand your picture's purpose.

For example, if you wish to show the barn’s immensity, you can include an object of recognizable size on the same plane as the barn (a tractor, for example) to show scale. If, on the other hand, the barn’s weathered wood is the center of interest, you will probably need to move in close to capture it at a time when it's side-lit to bring out the grainy texture. Same subject, but two different centers of interest. By approaching photography in this manner, your pictures will have purpose and achieve the reaction you want from their viewers.

 Sometimes it's OK to break the rules of placement. The center of interest (the bridal couple) is central in the picture, but look how everything points to them.
Sometimes it's OK to break the rules of placement. The center of interest (the bridal couple) is central in the picture, but look how everything points to them.

It's obvious that the center of interest is the young woman, however the picture is unbalanced and so cluttered that it is distracting to the eye.
It's obvious that the center of interest is the young woman, however the picture is unbalanced and so cluttered that it is distracting to the eye.

PLACING THE CENTER OF INTEREST

When an individual object is the center of interest, it is generally best placed in accordance with the Rule of thirds and hardly ever works well dead center in the frame when there are other objects of importance in the composition.

An object placed dead center in an image overpowers everything else around it. Locating an object like a bullseye in your picture is a powerful, but greatly abused, tool. By placing an object smack in the middle of the frame, you're telling your viewers that there is nothing else in the scene worth looking at. But most scenes contain a number of other inter-related objects that help the viewer to see the meaning of your photograph and that contribute to its artistry. Rarely is dead center the best place for your center of interest.

This means that once you have identified the center of interest, you should move the camera around, changing your viewpoint, so that the center of interest is where it should be, and effective balance is created with other objects and spaces in the scene.


PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

Does it sound like too tall an order, one you can never fulfill?

Don’t worry. Everyone thinks that at the beginning. The theory is more daunting than putting it into practice.

As you practice and get used to it, it will become second nature to you. You will find yourself almost automatically and quickly identifying the center of interest, locating it properly in the frame, composing for balance through the viewfinder and taking an effective and well-composed picture that provides the emphasis you want, without even thinking about it.

The key word is practice. When you practice doing something right, often enough, then you begin to do it right all the time without even having to think about it.

By changing camera angle and moving closer to re-compose the image,  clutter is removed, and there is nothing to distract the viewer from the center of interest. A reflector or fill flash would have further improved this image, lightening shadow areas.
By changing camera angle and moving closer to re-compose the image, clutter is removed, and there is nothing to distract the viewer from the center of interest. A reflector or fill flash would have further improved this image, lightening shadow areas.
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