How to Emphasize Your Main Subject in Photography

In most cases, a photograph comes to life when it contains one main point of interest. A landscape, for example, may contain a single tree, beautifully lit, that stands out from its surroundings.

landscape photography

“Single Willow” captured by PictureSocial member Al Michael Genabe

When you have decided on your main subject, there are a number of photography tricks that you can use to put it into prominence. By ‘tricks’, I am not referring to alteration in Photoshop or similar tools. I mean that choosing your viewpoint and composition thoughtfully and carefully, when shooting, will greatly enhance the power of your image. Here are three ideas that will help emphasize your intended subject:

1. Lines

Lines are created in an image wherever distinct or long lines occur between colours and tones. This needs not be just one element, but can be a whole series, e.g., roads and trees, clouds or shadows, which together form one strong linear element. When these lines radiate from, or converge into your main subject, they can create clearly dramatic lead-in effects. If your main subject is a cottage in the distance, and a distinct road lined with trees leads the viewer’s eyes straight to it, this can be much more pleasing than the same cottage pictured from another viewpoint that does not contain these elements.

linear photography

“Santa Monica Pier” captured by PictureSocial member Aaron Osorio

2. Positioning

Typically, digital photography beginners seek out a central position in the frame in which to place their main subject. This may work well in certain circumstances, such as a conventional head and shoulders portrait. However, when used exclusively, this type of composition can become boring.

Photography works well when we borrow from an old artists’ trick and place our main subject on an intersection known as the ‘rule of thirds’. Imagine your frame divided into nine equal boxes (like a noughts and crosses game). Place your subject at a point where two of these lines intersect, and you will create a far more pleasing composition. So, in the example above, the cottage could be placed on the right side of the image (at one of the intersections), with the road and trees leading to it starting from the bottom left of the picture.

photography composition

“The Guardian” captured by PictureSocial member J. Railey Samuel

3. Contrast

Making your main subject the lightest or darkest element of the picture (or even the only element containing a certain colour) will make it stand out strongly. This also helps emphasize shape and set a mood.

contrast in photography

“Walk into Shadow” captured by PictureSocial member Mohamed Rafi

An instance where I found this worked well was at sunset on a beach in Barbados. A couple was standing on some rocks photographing each other. They were backlit by the evening sunshine, and their silhouettes made a strong contrast with the reds and yellows of the sky behind them. The photographs I took of them in this situation remain some of my favourites to this day; they excellently capture the relaxing mood of a Caribbean holiday.

These are just a few of the digital photography tricks that can help your main subject stand out, and comfortably lead your viewer where you want them to go. Try hard to capture the image you want in the frame as you take it so that any subsequent Photoshop work is used with subtlety to enhance, rather than repair, your photograph.

About the Author:
This article is by Raymond Winters who previously wrote for photographycourseonline info.

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One Comment

  1. Ian Ford says:

    Thanks. Was aware of the first two ideas but hadn’t explicitly looked for contrast before. Will be looking out for opportunities

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