Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Center of Interest Review and Question

At our club completion on May 20th there was a comment on one of the images that it was lacking a Center of Interest (COI). I thought it was a very nice image so it got me to thinking; must a photograph have a specific COI in order to be successful? I can understand not wanting two COI’s or anything that competes with the COI, but what if a photograph does not have that single element that calls attention to itself. Does that mean that there is no COI? Or does it just mean that there is more to the COI than what at first is obvious? I am always concerned about rules that are passed off as gospel. Comes from reading way too much Emerson.

Questions always lead to the Internet. I am attaching links to two articles that I found, both of which are excellent. Neither addresses my question specifically.

From Photo Composition Web Site [worth bookmarking]
Basic Photographic Techniques: Center of Interest

From The Artists Magazine
Focal Point vs. Center of Interest
September 01, 2007 by Greg Albert

I also spent some tme browsing through nature sites looking for images that I thought were very successful that did not appear to have a specific COI. It was not difficult to quickly find thirty-six examples that met the criteria.

I can’t think of another genre of photography where you can produce a photograph, which I would consider successful without a COI, other than nature. But I do believe that in nature it is possible to do that. I found photographs of fields of flowers, grasses, grains, trees, tree bark, sand patterns, geological formations, rock textures, water reflections, a number of different subjects that can be photographed very successfully with no specific element in the image calling attention directly to itself.

I guess what I am trying to say is that there are reasons for rules of composition, but locking your thinking into only one mindset sometimes can prevent you from expanding what you are able to see as good photography. Here is a line from a poem that I enjoy, “Why do you walk through the field in gloves, missing so much, so much?”


  1. I feel composition rules limited imagination and creativity. COI is to set, as are the rules of thirds. I think one needs to approach photography as an art form and not a blue print of a subject where every part is predefined. In BLUE BONNET, color is the COI. the image explodes with feeling by the diffusing of the Flower and pushing of the colors to the fore front. Keep it up...
    and thanks.

  2. Gary,

    Thanks for the articles on COI. I found them to be very helpful. I had incorrectly assumed that the terms COI and focal point were synonymous. However, one article made the distinction that the COI attracts the mind while the focal point attracts the eye - very interesting, and that does make sense! It further stated that there should be (only) one area that attracts BOTH the eye and the mind in order not to confuse the viewer. Point taken - simplicity is key.

    I agree with you that nature might be one area where a definite COI might be unnecessary (for example, a nature scene that contains many elements). But I can also see how having a COI in some nature images might turn a "yawn" image into "wow" image.

    Take a field of flowers, for example. No matter how beautiful they are, they are still a collective field of flowers. Maybe using a wide angle to make one appear larger would create a COI? Or having one lone tree in the field of flowers would create a COI and give the image more impact.

    Another example in nature when a COI seems needed - whenever a pattern is repeated (this applies to nature or elsewhere). A COI breaks the pattern and stops the eye from wandering. Additionally, that COI can add life or interest to the pattern or even make a statement -even if only to say "Notice me! I'm different from everything around me!"

    You mentioned bark on a tree. To my way of thinking, bark on a tree - though pretty or interesting - is still just bark on a tree. Perhaps a COI such as some woodpecker holes or an interesting bug could give the image more interest.

    Lastly, the COI article states that "subordinate elements within the picture must support and focus attention on the principal feature so it alone is emphasized." This is a key point as well. If the COI doesn't relate to (and dominate) everything else in the image, it becomes a random object that only confuses the viewer.

    While I think I accomplished that with my "No Trespassing" image, I think my purple coneflower image with the lizard on top was guilty of the above (what is my subject?) One judge commented that the lizard was more the subject than the flower. I would agree. While it may have been a nice overall image, the assignment was Texas flowers and the "subordinate element" (lizard) tried to steal the show from the Texas flower! Perhaps an unassuming lady bug would have been more appropriate than a lizard with an attitude???

    Thanks again for sharing the helpful articles and thanks for the forum to discuss them.


  3. PS I apologize for not commenting in my earlier post on your wildflower shots. As I said earlier, I LOVE the one you submitted at photo club but also really like numbers 2 and 4. #4 is probably most recognizable as a bluebonnet but they are all great! Thanks for telling us how you achieved this effect. I'm sure it takes a lot of nerve to roll around in the median, but this time it was definitely worth it! ;-)


  4. Jan, I had to smile at the “lot of nerve” comment. There was a time in my life when I would have been extremely self-conscious even shooting photographs on the median. That is a time long gone. I just wish it had gone before my knees did.

    There is not a single point that you made with which I would take issue. As far as the lizard, the photo was so great it didn’t matter which was the dominant subject, although it was the lizard. If it had been a turtle it would have been very incongruous (thank Terry for me being hung on that word right now) but lizards and flowers are perfectly natural. It thought they complimented each other in a very unique photo because getting that close up is not an easy task.

    My curiosity is this. I believe that Sharon’s entry was a successful photograph without that single element and I am wondering if it is possible, for example in a field of flowers, to have a successful photograph without the COI, or possibly is the field the COI? I know that there is no identifiable COI in the image as we normally think of COI, but I do not think the photograph failed because of that. That is what got me started on this quest. It was not to take issue with the comments, I wanted to know why I saw the photograph as successful in spite of the lack of the COI? Something I had not given a lot of thought to recently.

    I know when I was processing my photographs from the bluebonnet shoot I wanted to get a feeling that a field of flowers conveys. Spring and the renewal of life is a joyful pleasant time, a time to feel good, and I wanted my photographs to be light and to convey that feeling of springtime joy. Sharon’s photograph conveyed the same to me but by encompassing the entire field so that you just want to take off and run through it.

    I am also, I guess, contesting the strictness of the rule, or rules in general, and am concerned that we are too often looking for a rule to be satisfied rather than actually taking in the photograph for what it conveys. Not to bring anyone else into the discussion, but there are two photographs in David;s new book review which in my opinion are very successful yet neither has that specific COI that I can identify in the image. Is it possible that sometimes it is just okay for the eye to roam around the photograph and take in the scope of God’s handiwork?

    As you know I do a lot of very tight crops and I am often told that the viewer is left with no room to roam. I reply that if they want room to roam go to a mall, this is what I feel is important in the image and I want to say that clearly. So sometimes we roam, sometimes we don’t. Maybe I am just confused about when we should and when we shouldn’t. LOL

    This is long and I apologize but one more point. My friend in the Bronx, Paul, has been taking very dark, very soft scenics for some time. They do not have a strong COI. What I get out of his images is a very strong sense of aloneness, not loneliness, but a sense of being alone in this mysterious but beautiful place, wandering, discovering. I love them and seriously believe that they are stronger without a strong COI to bring you in to a place to rest because they let the viewer wander into and through the image and to feel the quietness of the images.

    If I can pull it off, I have an idea for a horizon photograph that will not have a COI. Okay, Woodard, it is time to quit rebelling!!! LOL

  5. Paul, again, thank you for your input. Could not have said it better myself, however, as you know, I would have used more words. LOL

  6. Gary,

    I think I get what you are saying and I would agree that there are many successful images that do not have a COI. In the example of a single flower, the flower itself IS the COI. You also talked about an entire field of flowers and whether or not that would require a COI. I personally enjoy seeing a field of flowers and can appreciate the various colors and textures as my eye roams the entire image. So I'm certainly not suggesting that EVERY image must have a COI to be considered successful.

    What I would suggest, however, is that a COI often adds IMPACT to an otherwise so-so image. I suspect that the average person does not take the time to study an image like you do. You are obviously a deep thinker and you will find meaning in a blade of grass (you can take that as a compliment!) But in our fast-paced world where people are constantly bombarded with stimuli from all directions, I suspect that most people will not give an image more than a cursory glance (unless it is something totally outrageous). Perhaps using a well placed COI would provide the added impact that could turn a glance into a pause?

    I still contend that some (though not all) patterns whether in nature or otherwise can be a bit boring without a COI. Of course it must be logical in the context (congruous?) I've seen some pattern images that are downright boring and I'm sure you have too. This is an example of where I think a COI is necessary - not because of some rule but because it adds interest to an otherwise boring image.

    Anyway, thanks for starting this discussion - it makes us think, which is a good thing!


  7. Gary, this is Sherry from the photo club and I am wondering if you are talking about my entry of the field of wild flowers.

    Thanks, Sherry

  8. Sherry, sorry I missed your post earlier. The image I am referring to was a field of wildflowers with a row of trees in the background. I believe it may have been yours. There were two comments made about the photograph lacking a center of interest which got me to thinking whether or not a photograph could be successful without a specific center of interest. After looking through several landscape site I concluded that there can be an exception to the rule. I am not sure whether or not that exception extends beyond nature photography, but there it is very workable to have an image with a specific center of interest, as in the case of the photo at the camera club.

  9. Gary, I am of the mind that an image does need a center of interest, BUT that the COI can be anything from an object in the photograph, to a message or feeling that the photographer wants to evoke to/in the viewer. I don't think it's mandatory that the COI be a physical object or thing that it focused upon in the image (as is the case many times). I do think that the first job of the photographer is to decide what the image will be about, not necessarily a specific object that the viewer should pay more attention to, but what message does the photographer want to send to the viewer. The next step is to make sure that 'message' is loud and clear to the viewer. And we use a COI, lighting, or other elements of composition to communicate that message to the viewer. The third thing would be to remove any elements that will compete with that message. In the end, if the viewer 'gets' the message that the photographer intended, then the photograph is a success, period. That message can be about an object in the photograph (COI as some want to call it) or beauty of nature (as you suggested), or loneliness, pattern, color, texture, tone, whatever. Anyway, that's my two cents that is a few years too late... lol. Scott A