Week 17 - Use selective focus to communicate a point

No, we aren't going to use it because it looks cool.

No, we aren't going to use it just to be artsy.

This week, we will use selective focus to communicate... to make a point.

Here is a technique all new photographers want to learn -- how to make the background blurry. It does look cool when you master it. Create a bokeh effect, and it even looks artsy. But why else might you use it?

Selective focus is a great tool to emphasize part of your frame and communicate a message. Here's an example:

I wanted to photograph the Capital Bikeshare racks in Washington, D.C. The rows of bright red bicycles with complementary yellow type make an inviting target. The repeating pattern of bicycle frames is also attractive.

Capturing both effects is great, but I also wanted to include a rider. Adding people to an image can create a new dimension. It adds life. 

I didn't want the person to be the focus of the image, however. Because we are drawn to the human form, it can easily become a distraction. 

Selective focus was the right tool, but how much blur?

In my first attempt, I used f/1.8, which totally softened the background. It was too much for my taste, as I wanted to communicate there was a person renting the bike. 

My second attempt at f/9 created too much detail in the background. I found myself looking at all the other items in the frame, as much as my subject. Distracting.

At f/4, I found my right balance. I had enough detail to communicate a person was renting a bike. I created enough of a blur to eliminate potential distractions.

Selective focus is used to separate your subject from the background. It can also be used to show just the right amount of complementary elements.

Not sure how to create selective focus? Learn about the four elements used to make blurry backgrounds in this blog post.

You can also use this helpful depth of field cheat sheet from Digital Camera World.


The Challenge

Take a photo using selective focus, but don't do it just to be artsy. That's too easy. Tell us why your choice enhanced the photo.


Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.


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