Composition Principles: Dominance/Emphasis

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Perhaps the most obvious principle of composition, dominance or emphasis can instantly create a focal point in your image. It is the largest, darkest,  brightest or most colourful aspect of the photo, that is also the subject or the ‘focal point’.

A portrait, with the face dominant, leaves no question of what the photographer wishes to emphasize.

Pomo girl photographed by Edward S. Curtis in 1924. (National Library of Congress)

Pomo girl photographed by Edward S. Curtis, 1924. (National Library of Congress)

With modern high-speed shutters, it would have been a cinch to pre-compose this image and snap off  a few continuous frames to catch the skater in midstride, however, the crooked horizon suggests the photographer may not have been quite prepared for his subject and perhaps was only able to release one shot before the skater disappeared around the bend.

Dutch skater in traditional costume. The Netherlands, 1933, location unknown. Collectie Spaarnestad

Dutch skater in traditional costume. The Netherlands, 1933. Photographer and location unknown. Nationaal Archief / Spaarnestad Photo.

 

Using light to emphasize the subject is classic means of focusing your attention.

Women become skilled shop technicians after careful training in the school at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant, Long Beach, Calif. Most important of the many types of aircraft made at this plant are the B-17F ("Flying Fortress") heavy bomber, the A-20 ( Palmer, Alfred T.,, photographer.

Women become skilled shop technicians after careful training in the school at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant, Long Beach, Calif. Alfred T Palmer.

Not all dominant elements are focal points, however. In this case,  the brightness of the boat creates the emphasis.

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Size and an early morning key light pull the eye to the focal point in  the following image, but the eye still explores the landscape.

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Sometimes the focal point can be disguised by dominant elements.

Dutch soccer player Bep Bakhuys on the offensive during the Netherlands-Belgium. 1935. Collectie Spaarnestad

Dutch soccer player Bep Bakhuys on the offensive during the Netherlands-Belgium. 1935. Nationaal Archief / Spaarnestad Photo

No need to guess the focal point here…

Photographer: Elinor Wiltshire Date: 1964

Sharpness and contrast separate the boy from a more muted background. Photographer: Elinor Wiltshire, 1964. (National Library of Ireland)

Dominance and emphasis pulls your eye to the centre of interest with  size, colour, value (darkness), contrast and brightness. It is so easy to understand that we may not actually realize that is relevant. Dominance can also create a hierarchy of values, which leads us to …

Next Post: Composition Principles: Hierarchy and Gradation

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