Posted by: kerryl29 | April 1, 2019

Center of Interest

More than 20 years ago, when I was in the relatively early stages of becoming serious about landscape photography, I was given a copy of Joseph K. Lange’s How to Photograph Landscapes.  The book, which was published the same year it was gifted to me (1998), had a wealth of valuable technical and artistic information for the relative novice, which is what I was at the time.  One concept that stuck with me was the notion of employing what Lange termed a “center of interest” as a key compositional facet.

I quote from the book:

“The kind of artistic landscape photography that I advocate can be achieved only by evoking a strong emotional response from viewers.  An essential element of this kind of image is a strong center of interest.  A center of interest can be defined as the place in the photograph that the eye is drawn to and lingers.  There should be no other object of equal or nearly equal interest in the photograph to pull the eye away.”

From the time that I first read these words, I took this idea very seriously.  Center of interest.  When scanning a scene I had to find it, identify it, know what it was.  If I couldn’t do that, obviously there was no image to be made.  It wasn’t long before I stopped thinking about this concept consciously and, truth be told, I really don’t ever think about the center of interest consciously today.  But I do deal with the matter subconsciously, all the time.  And I’ve also come to realize that, at least in my view, the way center of interest was defined in the book is too narrow.

The quoted passage above implies that centers of interest are objects.  And, frequently, that’s so.

Freeland Farm Dawn, Tucker County, West Virginia

Earthshadow, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Pretzel and Lighthouse Arches, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Lower Falls, Enfield Glen, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Barns, natural arches, waterfalls, mountain peaks…all classic “center of interest” objects.  But over time, I came to realize that while a center of interest can be an object, it need not be, at least not in the classic sense of the term.  As I attempted to demonstrate in my previous post, patterns can be a center of interest.

Birches, Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Prairie Trillium, Illinois Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Breaking Waves Black & White, Otter Point State Recreation Site, Oregon

Bracken Fern Closeup, Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Birch Reflections Black & White, Boreal Forest Trail, Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Alaska

Colors can also be the center of interest in an image–not colorful objects per se, but colors themselves:

Spruce Knob Dawn, Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

Water Abstract, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

Color Riot, Hancock Overlook, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

 

Tones, too, can serve as the center of interest.

Fern Closeup Black & White, Damnation Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Virgin River Intimate black & white, Riverside Walk, Zion National Park, Utah

Atigun Pass Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Aspen Isolates Black & White, Lost Lake Road, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Textures can be the center of interest:

Blackwater Falls Abstract Black & White, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Eielson View, Denali National Park, Alaska

Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Lichen Wall, Acadia National Park, Maine

Light can be the center of interest:

October Light, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, West Virginia

Golden Band, Ouray County Road 5, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Morning Glory, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona

Backlit Tree, Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Shapes can be the center of interest:

Totem Pole at Sunrise, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Ice, Snow & Water Patterns Black & White, Eagle Creek Park, Indiana

Forest Floor Black & White, Damnation Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Lines can be the center of interest:

Ridge Lines, Auxier Ridge Trail, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Bridle Path, Turkey Run State Park, Indiana

Scrub Oak, Owl Creek Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Highway 11, David Thompson Country, Alberta

You get the idea.  In fact, if you view some of these images, you may think that the category of the center of interest may be manifold…texture and pattern, for instance.  This raises the question of whether it’s possible to have multiple centers (plural) of interest within the same image.  Or is that an oxymoron?

Informally, I’ve redefined the term “center of interest” loosely as:  the primary reason why an image is compelling.  Admittedly this is a far less structured definition than Lange used in his book, and is therefore probably less actionable–and thereby less useful to the relative novice.  Upon reflection, I’m grateful that Lange defined the term as he did because that narrower, more tangible approach was an important building block for me when considering the notion of composition.  But I’m glad that I have now allowed that definition to be broadened, for my own use, as doing so as opened up all sorts of creative paths that I might otherwise have neglected.


Responses

  1. Thank you for this. You remind me that all rules of photography are there to be broken (rule of thirds, for one), though perhaps the most important element of what you are saying here is that you should know why you’re doing what you’re doing, or at least your eye is telling you that this way is working.

    • Thanks. Yes, I think–particularly for those new to the endeavor and relative novices in thinking about such things–going through the exercise of comprehending why something is compelling, or seems to work visually, is time well spent.

  2. I love your photos! I love how you catch the movement of the water. Your photos are perfectly framed. You remind us how beautiful the world is. Thank you!

    • Thanks, Roland. You are too kind.

  3. Lovely examples. I think rules are made to be broken, but you do it so well. 🙂

    • Thanks, Gunta. There are no photographic rules, only advisory guidelines. 🙂

  4. Love the Images (usually do!) and the local adds an additional dimension to the experience. Thanks as always for the trip! M 🙂

    • Thanks very much!

  5. What a great post! Not only are your photos fantastic, but you have provided ideas and inspiration 🙂

    • Thanks very much!

  6. […] an exception precisely because the “hot spots” are desired, creating the image’s center of interest.  But, again, this is atypical.  Most of the time, hot spots are more or less randomly placed in […]

  7. […] to explore a scene organically–that is, at first, with your own eyes.  Identify the center of interest unaided.  Establish the proximate focal length, select the lens of choice accordingly, and then […]


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