More on Emphasizing the Subject of Your Photo

Yellow Ball. Copyright William H. Hall III

We left off in the last post with emphasizing the subject of your photo through the use of framing. Now, let’s continue on with the other five ways to emphasize your subject.

You can use selective lighting as a means to draw attention to the subject of your photo. An example would be a picture of mountains in the distance, at sunset. The mountains are highlighted by the light coming from the setting sun, while the foreground may be in shadow. You can also use shadows to create a sense of the unknown, by having a person in the light, and one walking from the light into a shadow area in the shot.

Converging lines is another method of focusing on your subject. Imagine the line of a wooden split rail fence, leading from the front left or right corner of a photo to the opposite corner in the back of the photo, with your subject (a little girl in a cowboy hat) at the end of the fence. The viewer’s eye has no choice but to go directly to the little girl, because the fence leads right to her. This effect works best with a wide-angle lens, by the way.

Selective focus is yet another way to draw attention to the subject of your photo. If you use a large aperture and focus sharply on a subject in the foreground, the background will be rendered out of focus, thus accentuating the subject. Alternately, you could focus on a subject in the background and put the foreground out of focus.

Another option for emphasis on your photo subject is repetition. I think of a photo of a whole bunch of penguins, since I just saw March of the Penquins. And all the penguins are looking the same way. If all but one penguin was looking the same way, that would be selective focus, since the one penguin would stand out from the others.

By the way, you wouldn’t see me doing the “penguin shuffle” for 70 miles, even if there were a ton of chocolate at the end of the walk! (For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about; in the March of the Penquins movie, the penguins would march about 70 miles through the freezing cold, just to get to their breeding grounds.)

The last method of making your subject stand out in your photo is through the use of motion. By using a slow shutter speed when photographing a moving subject, with the camera still, the object in motion will stand out against the steady background. You could also “pan” your camera with the subject, and make the background appear blurred and the subject appear sharp. A fun way to use motion is to set up your camera on a tripod at night and photograph a busy city street or highway (be sure to be safely out of harm’s way), with a slow shutter speed. Try different slow shutter speeds. The cars will appear as streaks of light, but watch out for street lights that may appear overexposed.

So, that’s about it for how to emphasize the subject of your photos. You can use only one method or a combination of several to make some pretty cool effects, and make your subject stand out.