Removing Visual Distractions

One of the mistakes made by photographers is not paying attention to details. Immediately upon looking at an image a viewer decides what is important to focus on (the subject of the image) and then the eye will divert to other areas of the image that gain attention. To insure that your viewer looks at what you want them to look at you need to remove or minimize elements in the image that draw attention away from the subject.

Sometimes these elements are easy to recognize, like a dust spot or bright area in the picture that is easy to remove. Remember that the eye naturally moves to the area of an image with the greatest contrast, most brightness, or sharpest focus. This means you can use these elements to direct how the viewer looks at your photograph. It also means that elements that fit that criteria that are not where you want people to look become distractions to the viewer. A recent image I judged was very good in concept but the primary subject was difficult to discern as other elements of the image were both sharper and brighter. This made it actually difficult to determine where to look within the image, and the subject was relegated to secondary status. That means the communication between the photographer and the viewer was broken, and the image failed.

More often the issues are more subtle. Tonal values that are the same as the subject can dilute the impact of the primary subject in the image by drawing the eye away in a manner I can only describe as diffusing attention. The approach I use in working on a file is to identify the distractions and deal with them by removal, tonal changes, reduction of color intensity, diffusion of sharpness or whatever other means makes sense within the context of the overall image.  As you remove distractions, other smaller distractions often make themselves known. Directing the viewers attentions is therefore a process that you move through, constantly viewing the overall image and analyzing the movement of the eye within the frame until you are satisfied that the eye settles where you want it to.

There may be an implied movement within an image, and that is not a bad thing. A flow of attention within the image that leads you to and helps you settle on the primary subject area is a good thing. Training yourself to see this is important to making successful images. It is sometimes easier to do with images other than your own. In this respect it is often helpful to work with a companion or small group of photographers whose opinion you learn to respect to review your work and trade comments and criticisms. It is also good training in learning that criticism is an important part of the process, and that all viewers may not see your images the way you do. Eventually, you learn to better analyze your own images.

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