When you first see a picture, you scan it, looking for a 'way in'. If you don't find it, you may very well dismiss the picture as uninteresting. All this happens subconsciously, the result of millions of years of evolution, scanning landscapes for friend, foe or sustenance. This 'way in' is the 'focal point'. It need not be the principal subject. With a simple composition, the principal subject and the focal point may be inescapably one and the same, but where there is a lot going on in a picture, the focal point is where you start looking at it.
Although the focal point of a picture will normally be in sharp focus, that is not the same as saying that it is the point of focus, i.e. the point on which the camera is focused. 'Focal points' work as well with 'deep field' photography (sharp from front to back) as with those where selective focus is used.
The module contains 17 pictures, 10 colour, 7 black and white, shot with 35mm, medium format (6x6cm and 6x9cm), large format (4x5 inch and 5x7 inch) and even two digital shots (Nikon D70 and Leica M8). Pics are from China, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, India, Romania, Slovakia, the UK and the US: a wide variety, even for us.
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This picture isn't 'about' the three young people in the foreground -- it's 'about' the suitably Transylvanian architecture -- but if you take them away (along with the other figures in the background) it is a very different photograph: the focal point becomes the lantern, and frankly, it isn't a very effective one. Sighisoara was the birthplace of Dracula.
© 2007 Roger W. Hicks