Part 2 Lesson 2: single focal point

Where do you put your subject?

Last week you tried changing your viewpoint to change the balance between subject, background and foreground in your photograph.

I don't want you to forget that viewpoint is the first thing to consider when you are setting up your photograph. For the 4 weeks of this mini series on composition, please keep moving around and changing your viewpoint.

In addition, this week I want you to think about precisely where in the frame you are going to put your subject.


Last week I asked you to limit yourself to just one subject in each photograph you take. Here's why.

When someone looks at your photograph, their eye will be searching out something to rest on. If they can't find anything - if they have to keep jumping from one thing to another - they will be impatient, annoyed, anxious, unsettled, and disturbed. If that's what you want them to feel, then you've taken a great photograph.

If not, make it your mission to help the viewer of your photograph by giving them a single focal point - one subject - to find and rest their eyes on.

single focal point.jpg


Once you have made sure you have just one subject, there are a few composition techniques you can use to help draw the viewer's eye to it, and establish its authority as the single focal point. You need to make it clear that it is not the foreground, nor the background - it is the subject of the photograph and the reason the viewer is looking at the image.

For this week's project you are going to pick at least one of these techniques and create an image which has one subject carefully placed within the frame - one clear focal point, with no distractions from the background or foreground, or from competing subjects.

These are the techniques you can try:

1. Rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is the first composition technique that most photographers learn. If you've not tried it yet, do this one first.

All you you need to do is frame your image so that your subject is placed on one of the imaginary lines that split the frame equally into thirds:


On many cameras, including phones, you can turn on these lines as an overlay in the viewfinder to help you. This technique works because the slightly asymmetric placement of the subject is naturally appealing to humans. Much more so than the static feel you get from having your subject dead centre.

2. Leading lines

Leading lines are visual cues or prompts that you use to literally lead the viewer's eye through the frame to the subject. It's not particularly subtle, but effective nonetheless. Footpaths are the obvious thing to use, but you can try walls, shadows or anything available to make your point:

leading lines.jpg

3. Background separation

This is a more subtle, slightly more advanced technique. You may have used it unconsciously, but it's worth bearing in mind as a legitimate technique in its own right. The idea is to separate your subject from the background using any means at your disposal. It's not used for landscape photography so much, but whenever you are taking a portrait, still life or sports photo, try to remember this one.

The way to achieve background separation is to use contrast. Try either having a strong contrast between colour/tone, or by using a shallow depth of field to create a blurred background, contrasting with your sharply focussed subject:

separation 1.jpg
separation 2.jpg

Don't forget, if you want to use a contrasting depth of field for this exercise, you'll need to blur the background out using your largest size aperture (smallest number, eg f4), and make sure you focus on your subject.


This week, pick one (or more if you have time) of the 3 techniques I've outlined, and create a photograph with a single, clearly signposted subject. The 3 techniques are: rule of thirds, leading lines and background separation. You can use more than one in the same photo.