View Full Version : Center of Interest

09-29-2010, 07:58 PM
The Center of Interest is something I struggle with in landscapes. I hope you can give me some insite on how to approach this topic. I have read that you make your center of interest more detailed, make it pop, have sharp edges and it can be as simple as light against dark or dark against light, etc, etc. So when you are planning your painting, what do you take think about when trying to pick the center of interest. I have posted two of my own reference pictures and anyone can used these if they like. So by looking at these two pictures, what would be the center of interest to you and why or are these photos to dull to paint with no center of interest? Thanks a lot for any advise you can give me on this subject. I am really trying to learn and WC is such a Great forum to get answers. thanks again, james

09-29-2010, 08:08 PM
Hi James. . . I'm new, too, and hence will be watching what others more experienced have to say.

From my limited experience, I'd say that what always gets my interest eye on any photo with a road is the end of the road/path as my eye winds down it my mind wanders along it seeking where it will take me. In the other, I would guess the water. . . but that is a total guess.

Kathryn Wilson
09-29-2010, 08:20 PM
I love playing with ref photos in Photoshop. I did my old trick of flipping the photo so that the large trees stop the eye on the right edge, instead of the left. I cropped it to enhance the composition; then, I played with the color and contrast. I added red and darkened it a bit.

Learn to paint with your camera when taking ref photos - I find that cuts out a lot of guess work. I compose with my camera so that I am sure of an interest in the painting that will work.

See what you think is the focal point now.


Deborah Secor
09-29-2010, 08:31 PM
Turn it upside down and ask: Where does your eye go? What stops the movement of it? It doesn't have to be a place or thing, but an area of the pic. When it's upside down you don't get as tied up in 'thing-ness' and tend to say, "Well, these little shapes and this color," or "The dark spot with the light next to it." For me it's here:


In this one the area of interest is all over the place... and would need to be recomposed.

I never think of it as the CENTER of interest, because that always makes me feel as if it has to be a particular spot or thing. It's usually a combination of all kinds of elements! It always helps me to look at the pictures non-objectively this way, upside down and sometimes in grayscale too.

Hope that helps!

09-29-2010, 09:47 PM
Oh this is already so helpful. Thanks for you thoughts. I got photo shop but forget to use it for compositions and the upside down picture really helps point out the focus. Thanks, james

Deborah Secor
09-29-2010, 10:26 PM
A little PS magic and you get this:


It has an area of interest, I believe.


It doesn't have to be JUST the tall trees, but a whole section of the painting! I would not over-detail the foreground grasses, which would be too distracting to the blue water and the grasses leading back to the trees. Those two dark shapes in the fore now help POINT to the area of interest. Anything peripheral to the area of greatest interest must ADD support to it, not take the limelight.

09-29-2010, 11:04 PM
wow, I never would have thought of turning upside down! Great info! ty

09-29-2010, 11:10 PM
Here are a couple thoughts on the center of interest or focal area. Keep in mind that compositional opinions probably vary the most and are the most subjective.

If you are in front of the scene, your answer to the question, "what is it about this scene that has caught my eye," should give you some idea of what the focal area is. In many landscapes there will be a specific something that made you take the photo or want to put the image down on paper. In picture #1, you might say, "That group of trees looks great against that mountain." in which case you might paint this:


Notice that the crop puts the group of trees in a much more dominant position in the composition.

You might look at the photo and say that the mountain is the major feature:


For me, this means using the trees as a framing element - framing the mountain which now dominates the comp. This is by no means the only way to do the composition if choosing to make the mountains the focal area.

Or the path leading up the scene might be more important. In this case, the path might not be important enough to carry the comp. and either the trees or the mountain might be rendered as just as important. But notice again that the crop itself can put certain areas in a more dominant position:


Your second photo I would put in the category of no focal area. This is perfectly acceptable. A painting does not need to have a specific focal area. The entire composition can be the focal area. Needless to say, this is harder to pull off. In some cases this happens when one zooms way in on a scene. An extreme close up can make the entire composition one focal area. Another popular theme for this type of "full-comp" focal area is when a pattern is the main idea. The strong vertical of the trees that go from one end to the other are such a pattern - but in this case, they are not that strong. So I would put this photo into the "not strong enough compositionally" category! A stronger pattern, such as rows of sunflowers, or a flower bed of rows of tulips, needs no specific focal area as the pattern becomes the "subject."

That's my take on the matter, for what it's worth!


09-29-2010, 11:33 PM
You guys are so much help and really gave me a lot more insite in trying to plan for a painting. Thanks so much, I really appreciate advice. james

Paula Ford
09-29-2010, 11:53 PM
James, These are gorgeous photos and thank you for giving us permission to use them!!!

Wow! Everybody has such great ideas on this!!

There is nothing boring in either one of these photos and there are tons of things you could do with them. My first thought for #1 was that just the movement in the road, an S-composition, would be the center of interest, leading the eye through the painting. #2, I thought the same as several others that the clump of trees on the left would be the center of interest.

I'm looking forward to seeing what you will do!!!

09-29-2010, 11:54 PM
For me, the first painting has many different possibilites. I don't know why, but lately I've been drawn to the panoramic format, and this photo could be painted that way. This is what I came up with:


I widened the dirt road a bit, and it probably could be done even a little more. The trees left to right could be your center of interest, sort of a 'tree line painting', especially if you made the mountain seem very distant and atmospheric. Just another option.

I guess for me, the center of interest always seems to be what drew me to take the picture in the first place. I always seem to remember what that is, I guess the photo just reminds me of what I originally saw. Sometimes it's the lighting, sometimes the shadows, reflections in the water, and that just leads me to my whole reason for doing the painting, thus the focal point. Unfortunately, I don't always get a keeper after all this trouble :lol: !

Great thread and great question!

09-29-2010, 11:58 PM
Hey, Granddad,

Great question for us newbies. I guess I'm going to have to learn to Photoshop like these pros here. What they've done really shows that, as Don says, the focal point is subjective. I really like your pictures, and I also like what Kathryn did with the colors...Deborah's suggestion for turning the pic upside down is creative and helpful. They've answered some questions for me, too. Can't wait to see what you paint!

09-30-2010, 07:11 AM
James, thanks for posting this question! I can't help but have learned from it already!

Donna T
09-30-2010, 10:39 AM
I have learned a lot from this discussion too. Thanks for bringing it up and sharing your photos, James. I know I am guilty of assuming the viewer will automatically see what attracted me to a scene. I also appreciate Deborah's tip for viewing the scene upside down. (I'll have to get in better shape to use this method for plein air).

Deborah Secor
09-30-2010, 12:43 PM
I also appreciate Deborah's tip for viewing the scene upside down. (I'll have to get in better shape to use this method for plein air).

:lol: This I want to see!

Actually, I snap a pic on my digital camera and then turn the photo upside down as I stand there, so that I can more readily see the shapes. Once I see them and recognize the interface and interest there, naturally I forget about the photo--but sometimes a pic helps me see the four edges of the paper and the flat "shape-ness" of things. Sooooooo...no need to stand on my head! :D

09-30-2010, 01:21 PM
Good thread. I've learned some too. In my little active screen in my head I can just see the masters back in the day when there were no cameras. I envision all the different ways one can position their body to look at a scene and then being too dizzy to pain it. lol.. Thank goodness for digital cameras and experienced artists to guide us.

09-30-2010, 07:08 PM
For me a good center of interest starts with a good composition. If I get that right, then rest is just technique. I rarely find it in nature without having to take a chainsaw to the seen or some other measure. Lots has been written on the topic. Two good ones are Henry Ramkin Poore and Edgar Payne.

09-30-2010, 09:11 PM
Hi James, I have always well most always when out takeing pictures the simplest comp is placeing your subject in the Rule Of Thirds. being if it's a tree in a field or lake rock whatever got your attention first. most of the time this gives you your point of intrest and sets up your comp. I find looking through a camers lets me creat my comp right there on the spot most of the time. then again I did freelance photography for over 35 years always carried at least one camera where ever i went. a 35 mm camera is great for this. Deborah has a good point on the new digital camers you could see it the light is right in the viewer. I don't like the viewer to compose being I cant see what is on it most of the time. a good SLR you hold it to your eye and see what is actually there in the frame. You could move around side to side. up and down. in and out. to get what you want. you don't have to run across the field to see what a close up would look like. I know nothing about photo shop but everyone here sure does some fantastic work with it.
Chris I never did any panoramic work but seeing what you came up withi like it going to start thinking that way.
Don showing what you did is great as they say one picture is worth 1000 words.
Great thread.

10-01-2010, 12:23 AM
Thanks everyone for all the advise. I am sure learning a lot. The second picture I did use as a reference for Creek Crossing. By looking at the suggestions, I wish I had used the left tress like Deborah did in photo shop. I think it has a much stronger composition. The first picture I had not plan a painting for, because I believed it lack interest, but since seeing all the suggestions, I can see possiblities now. Still not sure I will make a painting from it so if anyone wants to use it, please do.

As a side note, I am off to Yellowstone this weekend to do a painting workshop, Plein Air, with Aaron Schuerr. I leave in the morning and I can hardly wait. I'm like a kid before Christmas, I am so excited. Hopefully, when I get back, I'll have a wonderful painting to post. thanks again, james

Paula Ford
10-01-2010, 12:35 AM
You lucky man you!! I love Aaron's work! Have lots of fun and take photos!

10-01-2010, 11:08 AM
This is a great thread! have fun at the workshop James!
Wow, i bet Yellowstone is beautiful this time of year!

What a great place to have a workshop!


10-06-2010, 05:58 PM
I found this article and it really helped me as I did not realize that Focal Point and Center of Interest were different!!! So maybe some others don't realize either and would find this helpful.


Deborah Secor
10-06-2010, 06:16 PM
The differences are well described in this article. Thanks for sharing it!

I think this is part of the reason I refer to the AREA of interest, not a focal point or center of interest (COI). To me, the area of interest is the place in the composition where the COI and the focal point, as they are identified in the article, come into play together. When it works, it's all good...

10-06-2010, 06:19 PM
I found this article and it really helped me as I did not realize that Focal Point and Center of Interest were different!!! So maybe some others don't realize either and would find this helpful.


Now, this is a tasty little article - I never realized the definitions were actually different, but I definitely do see how they both need to be the same 'thing' in a painting, so as not to confuse the eye. Very interesting read. Thank you for posting this!

10-06-2010, 06:57 PM
Everyone has been so helpful. Great aritcle, thanks for posting it. I really do appreciate all the helpful suggestions. james