WHAT ABOUT THIS FOCAL POINT ISSUE?
This week I am going to discuss an issue that has always been a problem for me, and that is – how to find the focal point of my image, and then how to emphasize it once you know where it is. Darren Rowse, in a short blog called Using Focal Points in Photography, sums it up when he says “The reason a focal point is important is that when you look at an image your eye will generally need a ‘resting place’ or something of interest to really hold it. Without it you’ll find people will simply glance at your shots and then move on to the next one.” In other words, if you want people to look at your image seriously and not just consider it a snapshot, you better have a good, and if possible, interesting, focal point.
The image above was a good example of a focal point issue I had. This is an image of an outdoor cafe in Edinburgh, Scotland, with just a lot going on in it – loved everything about the scene and was not sure where to place the emphasis. (Click here to see my initial posting of photo on Flickr – notice that your eye goes everywhere when viewed – no obvious focal point in the image.) In the above painted rendition, I decided to draw the eye to the white jacket the woman had which was not so obvious in the first posting image. In this case by whitening just a little bit of clothing, it was enough to create a nice focal point. Also, the Camera Raw Filter’s Radial Filter helped provide the desired results with the subtle vignettes it provided. (See Image 1 Info at end of blog for settings used, including the Radial Filter.)
How to find your Focal Point
Deciding where the focal point of your image should be is the first thing to do before any post-processing is done to an image. You have to know where you want people to look to get a good result! Melissa Gallo is the major champion of focal points – she is both a traditional and digital artist and I believe she is the first person to really help me understand what a focal point is. She teaches a video class called Painting with Photoshop Workshop where she explains this concept very thoroughly. (I highly recommend your getting Melissa’s class if you are at all interested in creating digital art – and she provides lots of her beautiful textures for this class.) I learned these two tips are very useful for finding the focal point. First decide what was so important that it made you take the picture? – that should be your focal point. I tend to take a lot of images where I have not put a lot of thought into why I took it. I now understand that I am just taking memory snapshots, not something with major intention behind them. That is not necessarily a bad thing, and I do get some shots for creating nice photos or art, but overall the results are not good. Melissa’s second bit of advice was to “Squint at your images. If the focal point doesn’t stand out while squinting then something is wrong.” That is the area in the image to work on – you want to drive the viewer’s eye to the focal point. In the above image it was the people that attracted me – although beautiful buildings are in the background and there is the interesting signage, the people are the main story for me. And by painting more of a white color in the ladies shirt, it made the focal point a little more apparent. By squinting, the white does stand out to your eye.
A few good references on this subject are listed here. A most helpful one covers this topic in a lot more detail than my blog and is from Digital Camera World called Using Focal Points in Photography: How to Get Perfect Composition Every Time – check it out for some really good info. Another quick resource blog is The Importance of a Focal Point in Photography by by Wayne Turner. Also this short blog shows how Leonardo da Vinci developed his focal points using color, contrast and structure – see n-sane.net’s blog called Focal Point.
Some easy ways to emphasize the Focal Point
There are lots of ways to draw focus, but I really like the Radial Filter in the Camera Raw Filter. Frequently I use this as my last step to add a nice subtle vignette to emphasize the focal point in my image. The Camera Raw filter’s Radial Filter is one of the biggest improvements that came with Photoshop CC. This can also be done in CS6 by going back and forth between Lightroom and Photoshop, or by using Russell Brown’s script (see my Edit Layers with ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) Script blog) that let’s you open Camera Raw on an individual layer in earlier versions – and CS6 does have the Radial Filter available. The Radial Filter appears to be able to replace a lot of the other ways used to de-emphasize or emphasize a photo, and does it really quickly. All the Basic sliders are available and several radial filters can be placed all over your image so it is fairly easy to draw the eye to the focus point exactly the way you want.
The above image is of a man serving the best tasting Butterbeer from a street cart at Harry Potter Land at Universal Studios-Orlando. His interesting face was my main focal point. Topaz (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) Detail 3 was used to add just a little sharpening, although the Sharpen Tool on a New Layer or Camera Raw Filter’s Sharpening Panel could have been used – Detail is just so quick and does a great job with this so I tend to use it most for sharpening (my settings are in the Image 2 info at end of blog). Next two Radial Filters from the Camera Raw Filter – one for just his upper body where I want to draw attention and want the vest detail to show up, and another one for the rest of the image. Since the red on the truck was so overpowering, by using the outside radial filter the color could be slightly desaturated so the man shows up better. Also the detail in his shirt could be emphasized some with the inside radial filter. (See all settings for Image 2 at end of blog.) A Gaussian Blur Filter was added to a stamped version on top and the Radius set to 4.8. Then a black layer mask was added and areas around his face were blurred slightly, like the woman’s face and parts of the background. This is also an easy way to draw the eye to the focal point.
A couple quick tips on using the Radial Filter are listed here. Be sure to make your layer a Smart Object before opening up the Camera Raw Filter so that you can go back and adjust the Radial Filter settings if needed (Right click on the layer and select Convert to Smart Object.) A Smart Object and a Smart Filter are the same thing so either one will work. To duplicate a radial filter in Lightroom or Camera Raw, just hold the ALT+CTRL buttons and then drag the first dot so a second dot appears – next be sure to change the radial button setting to Outside or Inside if needed. By using this technique, you can cover the whole image to localize the effect you want. Don’t forget that you can place several radial filters in an image. The filter can be duplicated to apply the same effect twice to the same area. Sometimes you may just want to add or subtract color in a certain area and then go back and set another one to do something else, like sharpen or add clarity. This is a really versatile tool.
This image was taken in a store at Universal Studios Orlando. I loved all the beautiful shapes and colors in this image, but it a really good example of trying to pick the correct focal point. I tried to make the three pots on the lower left the focal point – still not sure I succeeded, but I believe they do stand out more than the rest of the image. I tried to follow the color, contrast and structure principle to emphasize the focal point. To me there is a question of exactly how far do you go to emphasize a focal point when there is so much to see in the image? When I “squint,” my eye does rest on the orange colored pot, so I believe I succeeded in emphasizing the correct area for my focal point. (See Image 3 for info post-processing.)
I hope I was able to help anyone else who has problems figuring out where the focal point is in an image and then what to do to emphasized it. It is not an easy topic. The above related blog links should help if you need more info on this. I will continue working hard on emphasizing my focal points in my photography and Photoshop. Have a good week!……Digital Lady Syd
Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Storytelling with Your Images
Post Processing Info
Image 1 : In Lightroom some basic changes and Dave DuChemin’s Classic India Split Tone preset was applied. Some major clean with removing cars and people that you can see in the original linked above on a New Layer. Three stamped layers were used, one after the application of another filter, for each plug-in. The image was actually painted in using three of my favorite plug-ins: Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) Detail 3 with my abstract setting (Detail Overall – Small Details, Medium Details and Large Details sliders all at -1.00; Color Temperature -0.27, Tint 0.34, Saturation -0.65, and Saturation Boost 0.21.) which gave the image a soft pinkish smooth look that was kind of interesting by itself; Alien Skin’s Snap Art 4 using Oil Paint Thick Paint preset with three Detail Masks to add detail back to the people and plants a little bit, Adding some Saturation and Contrast to the Colors tab, and using the Canvas default texture; and Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) ReStyle’s Cypress and Tan preset with no changes and applied at 66% layer opacity. The last step involved creating two Radial Filters in the Camera Raw Filter – Outside used Exposure -0.40, Contrast -41, Shadows +42, Clarity -44, and Saturation +6; and Inside, which was placed very close around the people sitting at the table, had Exposure +1.00, Contrast +71, Highlights +20, Shadows +74, Clarity +19, and Saturation +48. The Feather for both settings was set at 89%. Back in Photoshop the Camera Raw layer was set to 73% layer opacity.
Image 2: In Lightroom added Seim Power Workflow (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link to free sampler with this preset) Super HDR X preset that was applied at 79% using The Fader add-on. Opened in Photoshop and Topaz Detail 3 using a very subtle preset I use all the time on my images (my settings are just: Detail Overall Medium Details 0.38 and Large Details 0.16 and Tone Contrast 0.30 and Shadows -0.01) were applied on a duplicate layer. The image was turned into a Smart Object and the Camera Filter was opened. Two Radial Filters were used – one to emphasize the server, and one for the rest of the image. Outside used Exposure -0.60, Contrast +45, Highlights -12, Shadows +21, Clarity -73, Saturation -31, and Sharpness -72; and Inside, which was placed very close around the mans upper body and really brought out the detail in the vest, had Exposure +2.10, Contrast +47, Highlights +51, Shadows +93, Clarity 0, and Saturation +5. The Feather for both settings was set at 89%. Back in Photoshop the Camera Raw layer was set to 73% layer opacity. The last step involved created a stamped layer on top and adding a Gaussian Blur with a Radius set to 4.8 – a black mask was applied and just the lady and detail around the man’s face was painted back blurred using a 30% opacity white brush on the mask. I felt like this area was just too sharp and took away from the man’s face or the focal point.
Image 3: In Lightroom Seim’s Color Fantasies 2 HDR Classic preset was applied (another free sampler to download). In Photoshop the background layer was duplicated and set to Screen blend mode to lighten image as it was very dark. OnOne (see my Tidbits Blog sidebar for website link) Perfect Effects 8 plug-in was applied next. Stacked these layers in the plug-in: Split Tone, Detail Adjustment Brush painting in the three bottles on center left, Glow Adjustment Brush painting in just the three bottles on center left, Sunshine Glow, Big Softy Vignette set to Subtle with Size set to 7, Center placed on the three bottle in center left. Trying to make the bottles the focal point. Back in Photoshop another Camera Raw smart object was opened and two radial filters as before were created – emphasized the three pots in lower left. The Sharpen Tool was further used to help draw the eye. A Selective Color Adjustment Layer was used to add more color into just the three pots. On a stamped layer on top a Gaussian Blur set to 3.8 was applied. In a Layer Mask, just the pots were painted back leaving the rest of the image slightly soft. This is another way to draw the eye to the focal point. That was about all I could do. Vignetting, Color,Sharpening, and some selective Blurring.