Ken’s Tips on Your Pics: The main focus

The photo in this tip doesn’t really have a fault in it but I have chosen it to show the difference the background makes to what you are trying to say in a picture.

Christina is a very accomplished photographer, especially as she has only been doing it seriously for the last two years. As well as photographing clients she takes a lot of pics of her daughter Fiona.

This pic shows Fiona lying on her cousin’s sofa. There are a couple of objects on a shelf at the back.  Everything is well composed and Christina was very pleased with the beautiful bokeh (the way the lens has rendered the flowers out of focus) and the matching colours of the background. It is a very good photograph of a lovely little girl.



My only concern with the photo is the way my eye moves continuously from Fiona’s face to the flowers, never resting on one area. It isn’t always a bad thing to have some movement in an image but here I find that visually, the flowers demand as much attention as the main subject. The fact that they are framed by the wall and the door, draws the eye to them, away from Fiona who should be the main focus of the photograph.

I have Photoshopped the flowers out, and although the background now looks rather empty in comparison, it shows the difference it makes to where you look in the picture. It really is a matter of taste which one you prefer, neither are right or wrong, but you should always try to be aware of what is in the background of your photo and also what you are trying to say.

Without the flowers

Without the flowers

Thank you Christina for letting me use the photo of Fiona. I look forward to seeing how your photography progresses.

If anyone has any ideas or comments that they would like to make then please do. Or if you would like any advice on a family photograph that you have taken, please post it on my Facebook Page or email it to me at:

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6 comments so far

  1. Importrant and simple ! Thanks alot Ken .

    By Zuhair Ahmad at 5:42 pm on Jan 8, 2011

  2. hi ken,

    i have a different opinion about that picture. for me this is an enviromental portrait*, where the main focus is on the child but it’s placed in an enviroment. cutting the background of takes away a lot of the character of the picture.
    i like it very much, that the flowers link fiona into the picture and her enviroment (through the color). also the brownish thing at the border keeps the eye inside the frame – thats lost in the second version. and something else happens: a bright space is created in the upper right quarter. i find that has a much greater pull to the eye than the very much blured flowers. and i also think the flowers are very nice placed – they don’t interfere with anything.

    i’d say the picture is good because of the (little) pull of the flowers – and as an enviromental portrait it’s ment to be like this. taking the flowers out changes the genre and kills the life of the picture. in this case it turnes from a picture of a girl in a room into a picture of a girl with some stuff around.

    well, i think we see things a little different 😉


    * I mean a portrait of a person in its surroundings. Sorry for my poor english.

    By torsten winkler at 10:32 pm on Jan 8, 2011

  3. Hi Torsten

    Thank you for your considered response, much appreciated.

    I do not think that we see things that differently. I consider myself an ‘environmental photographer’, the main reason that I photograph families in their home.

    As mentioned in the post, I do think that Christina’s picture is well composed, certainly a better composition than my cropped version. I was trying to show how the emphasis in a picture can change dramatically by what is in the background. Unfortunately I am limited in how much I can alter the composition of an already taken photograph.

    If the flowers had been against a darker wall they may not have stood out quite so much. I feel that the strong contrast against the white wall and being framed by the wall and the brown stripe down the right gives the impression of a picture within a picture (not in itself always a bad thing). It’s not that I think the flowers don’t add to the photo, I just think that they compete too much with the main subject, Fiona.

    I cropped the brown strip as when the flowers were removed, it framed the large empty white space drawing even more attention to it. I also pulled the pic in a little on that side, again to minimise the amount of empty space but couldn’t really bring it in further without completely changing Christina’s composition.

    Of course this is where it comes down to opinion, but I do think that showing the altered pic without the flowers shows how much the emphasis can change.

    It is very instructive to have this sort of discussion so that people are aware of how we ‘read’ a photograph. Once we become aware of how a picture is ‘composed’ it becomes much easier to do it when looking through the viewfinder – hopefully resulting in better pics.

    Thanks again Torsten and especially to Christina for producing a picture worthy of debate.

    By Ken at 11:23 am on Jan 9, 2011

  4. Hi Ken,

    you’re wellcome 🙂 I allways like this kind of sharing different points of view. Sometimes it expands our perspective, to talk about what we see and how we appoint meaning to visual elements and so on.
    Maybe I didn’t pay enough attention – because the change in point of focus is well shown. And altering existing pictures in compsition is allway close to impossible, I know 😉


    By torsten winkler at 4:03 pm on Jan 9, 2011

  5. Hi Ken – it was good to meet you today at the Apple Store. Sorry I didn’t write down the link for you at the time – so here’s the link to the blog! It’s really simple, it’s just my thoughts on food, with some photos and recipes! But I hope you enjoy it.



    By Faye at 8:10 pm on Jan 12, 2011

  6. Any photo depend on its background and other elements, lighting etc. And poses also depend of real beauty of a photos.

    By Shawn at 12:58 pm on Dec 26, 2012

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