Why my picture sucks, and how to make sure yours doesn’t

What's the focal point? It's hard to tell.I was browsing through my photos the other day, and this one caught my eye. Do you know why? It sucks. I imagined someone bringing this picture to me and asking for some feedback.

I would respond with the same question I pose to just about everyone who takes my PhotoTour Excursion. “What’s the subject?”

Well, it could be the guy at the wall. It could be the huddle of girls. It could be the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall itself. It could be anything. But what is it?

The more specific and obvious the subject of your photo, the more dramatic your picture is likely to be. The subject is called a focal point, and every photo ought to have one. 

Without a strong focal point, your eyes wander from corner to corner looking for...the point. "Why am I looking at this photo?" you'll subconsciously ask yourself. Without an answer, you are likely to become frustrated and disengage. 

Do this: Before you lift the camera to take a photo, ask yourself "what's the point?" When you have an answer, take the photo and marvel at the results.


Visitor at The Wall pays tribute to Calvin Maxwell. This photo has a much more obvious subject.Here’s a picture of someone doing the same thing in the same location. What’s the focal point? No ambiguity now, is there? 

At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, visitors can trace the names of the fallen using pencil and paper. It is a moving way to pay tribute to your loved ones and take home a tangible memory their names. 

In each of my photos, a visitor is tracing a name. In only one photo is it obvious that the tribute is the focal point. That clear and unambiguous subject makes it a much stronger photo. 

P.S. I never spoke to the person in the photo, but he was tracing the name of Calvin W. Maxwell, An Army major whose body was never recovered from an aircraft accident on Oct. 10, 1969. He is listed dead on Sept. 5, 1978. I offer my sincere gratitude to Maj. Maxwell for his supreme sacrifice and condolences to his loved ones for their loss.