Managing the Center(s) of Interest - Part 4

November 19, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Centers of interest

People look at your pictures and instinctively try to figure out why everything is there and why each important item is where it is.

Here is an example where an overlooked item takes on the role of an unintended Center of Interest (COI).

The water heater has a much prominence as the subject!


The maker was careful to put his intended subject on the thirds and keep the wall line vertical but, beyond following 'Rules', he didn't look at the picture through the eyes and sensibilities of his viewers.

Clearly because the photographer was so entranced with his cute daughter and getting that shot right that he didn't even see the water heater. Of course, every viewer will try to puzzle out the meaning of the heater in the image.

And so they see the unintended COI and wonder.




So the photographer must be aware of all the Centers of Interest (COI) in his shot.

How many Centers of Interest can you have?                                  

This is a picture I took quite a long time go. (Yes, it is a bit embarrassing but it's the best example of bad picture-taking I could find.)

Colorful, lots of stuff but nowhere for the eye to rest and no idea what to look at.

I didn't fix on a subject, a COI, and the picture shows it.

So, a successful image really need to have one Center of Interest - at least.

If there isn't anything specific for the viewer to focus on and understand what the photographer is showing them, then their eyes will just roam around and their eyes – and interest – will go elsewhere.

The more COIs there, are the more complex the composition becomes and the more difficult the task of making it successful.

What about multiple Centers of Interest?

Most images are relatively complex, i.e. not so simple that they have only a single COI to look at, but the photographer must always know what portion is the most important and everything else in the image must relate to that.  If there are two or more COIs that are equally important they must be tied together and related, artistically and so that their relationship in the image makes actual sense.

Before i show examples of what I consider to be the proper use of multiple COI, let me show a couple of examples that may illustrate some errors.


In this image of a guitar player, there are three COIs, all equally prominent, with no clue which one the viewer should concentrate on.

So the eye goes from spot to spot, from face to hand to hand, without finding a specific most important spot and thus the image is unsatisfactory.

There are clearly other problems here with the pose, the lighting and most particularly with two of the potential COI, the hands, placed too close to the edge and even clipped.

We'll deal with the placement of COI and its importance in the next post.




Here is another example of multiple COIs.

These three runners are are in focus, better lit, a couple are even at the thirds where they should be important but still without any real relationship. 

We can look at each one separately but there isn't any artistic cohesion, no composition and, except for pretty people to look at, a forgettable image.





Now when the three runners, actually three other runners, form a little composition, merging together, so that whichever one our eyes light upon first, we are guided into a sort of composite COI.

The important point is that, whatever we include, however many interesting centers there are in an image, it must be clear to the maker and to the viewer, which are the most important, how they relate and their relationship in the frame must reflect that.







How to Handle Multiple COIs

Lots of things contribute towards  giving the viewer cues about important and relationships. I'll show some specific ideas in the next blog post but here are some examples of how I handle multiple COIs to make a specific impression.

Here is an example of a shot with two different, equally important centers of image, specifically placed at opposite sides  so that the viewers' eyes must  jump back and forth and the act of re-visioning of each center of interest emphasizes that there is something going on, a difference, and the viewer needs to be aware of it.

nyc-0799785 Another image of two Centers of Interest, spaced so that the viewer must look separately at each and this makes the view more conscious of the difference. This contrast between this lady behind a 'typical' flea market table and the painting of an elegant, wealthy (?) estate owner is emphasized by their separation, the expression on the vendor's face as she looks at the picture and the idealized vision of elegant ladyhood.

Now, an examples of an image with a main COI and a subordinated less important one.

Here is a  shot with a little unconventional framing.  The subject is straight on, his face filling the frame from top to bottom, but pushed to one margin so that the only background, either real or metaphorical is the sign.  He has a calm, obviously intelligent face and gaze yet the facial tattoos  assert there is something else going on with him. In the background there is a sign that is readable enough to add to the information in the man's face, yet the sign is obviously not as important as the man in this image.

The next blog post will deal with the importance of placement, focus and completeness of the object on how people see and interpret the image.




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