Adding and removing accents: tips for a photographer

On 29 Jan., 2021

The raised eyebrow of a spectator, the waterfall in a mountain forest, former opposites shaking hands. To have impact, the eye of the viewer must be directly drawn to the main point of interest of the picture. So in the first place the photo must provide such a main point, and secondly that must be heavily prominent. If there is visual clutter in the picture, attention flows to irrelevant portions of the photo, and the impact is gone before you know it! With placing and removing accents, you can give vital direction to a photo.

Adding and removing accents: tips for a photographer

Photographer and now professional writer James Quinn of “Essay Writing Help” helped me collect some of the most interesting facts about photo editing. So let's start with the main thing!

Place accents on the main subject

Two commonly used and proven ways in photography to point to the main subject are depth of field (DOF), and highlighting the subject. Depth of field is used by having the point of interest perfectly in focus, and the rest a pinch to even completely out of focus. The area in focus is immediately conceived by the viewer as what would be the main subject. For the photographer it would be a bit inconvenient if that is not what he wants to be the subject.

Depth of field

In black and white photography highlighting the important in a photo is used frequently. In a portrait the eyes are most the most vibrant, and are often highlighted. Elements that don’t add to the scene are darkened, or even blacked out completely.

More ways to place accents

A part that differs from the bigger or remaining portion of the picture, gets interest. So are highlighting and depth of field the only ways? No, there are much more possibilities to place accents!

To name some possibilities to make the main subject stand out from it’s environment:

Difference in color. A green ball will have a striking appearance between ten blue balls, and the eye will go to the green ball first.
Accents red monkeyDifference in color temperature. Warm colors like red, yellow, orange, brown strongly contrast with cold colors (colors derived from blue). Warm colors convey a mood of fire, strength and dynamics. Blue colors convey cold or calmness.  Not only a red subject in blue environment can count on a lot of attention, but also something like a blue ball on a red surface.
Difference in saturation. A subject more colorful than the environment. Like a colorful car on a grey street. This can also be added afterwards with photoshop. Making the photo black and white leaving the subject in color could be seen as a bit worn-out photoshop trick. But adding a pinch color or desaturating the environment a little could prove to look unforced and very effective, just to make the subject stand out better.
Difference in level of contrast. A subject that ranges from dark to light really stands out from a relatively flat environment. This can be achieved with Photoshop by adjusting contrast only in the area of the subject alone. The contrast, levels or curves function in combination with a layer mask or selection can do the trick.
Difference in dynamics. An environment with motion blur versus a sharp subject. An example of this is panning: following a moving subject (like a car) with a relatively long shutter time. This creates a blurred background, and when performed well, keeps the subject sharp. Or the other way round: a subject with motion blur in a static environment gets attention.
Difference in sharpness. When using the sharpening functions of photoshop, consider not applying it for the whole picture, but confining to parts that are the subject of the photo. One step further: artificially blur what is outside the subject.
Difference in brightness. Anything light stands out in a dark environment. Anything dark stands out in a light environment. Photoshop offers several options for this: brightness/contrast, or what we prefer for a more natural look: the levels. Besides that there is a ‘Burning’ function: a legacy concept from the analogue darkroom ages where ‘burning’ meant exposing more light to an area, and therefore darkening it. ‘Dodging’ was obstructing light to reach areas, for example by holding a piece of cardboard in front of the area.
So if the subject isn’t prominent enough, using adjustment layers with masks in Photoshop can really enhance a photo. Enhancing the differences between the subject and environment not only point out the subject, but also improve the contrast and vigour of the photo as a whole. The combination of warm and cold colors can be magnificent.

Use Composition

Composition is another key factor in leading to the main subject of a photo. If the main subject gets only a tiny slice of one twentieth of the space, it can dissolve in the picture. So hence the directive: step closer or zoom in! Give the subject at least one fifth of the image, or better eighty percent. However size  Accents red jacket isn't everything. It is compensated if the main subject is sharp and bold red, in a fairly flat environment.

Apart from size and characteristics, the positioning is relevant. Consider placing the main subject with the rule of the thirds.

Use leading lines that direct the eye to the subject

A variant of leading lines are the looking directions of people in the image. Skip the pictures when they look dull in a different direction. Choose the moment where they gaze at the subject.

And finally: use a frame around the main subject to add attention to it.

Remove accents on distracting elements

All areas of a photo are competing. If there are irrelevant parts of an image screaming for attention, that will hurt the main subject badly. Something has to be done in defense. If possible, the most simple and best method is just to omit those screaming distracting elements. When taking a photograph, take a standpoint that loses the distracting elements from the picture frame. Remove colorful toys in the background from sight. Or with post processing, just crop the distracting elements out.

If you can’t omit them, the approach is to lessen their influence. Now we know how to attract attention, we also know some ways how to reduce attention. Lessen the difference of the distracting element with its immediate surroundings. Blend the distraction elements into the environment:

Desaturate. Apply the desaturation function locally to the distracting element and turn a screaming yellow into a pastel color or grey.
Reduce the difference in color. Adjust the hue to change the color of the element to match it better with the surroundings. Possibly in combination with some desaturation.
Reduce the contrast. Select the distracting element, and in the levels function slide the upper or lower output level more to the middle.
Reduce the sharpness. Blur the background, by using a bigger aperture of the camera lens, or afterwards with blurring.
Use brightness. Select the distracting element and possibly some of its surroundings, and in the levels function change the input levels, to darken or to lighten that area.
Car desaturate and darken

In the example above, the traffic sign and car behind are darkened completely, and the environment is desaturated to some extent.

Keep it natural

With photo editing you should keep in mind to keep the natural feel of the picture, and keep it well balanced. Don’t overdo adjustments that would make the picture look artificial.

Thanks for reading. Written by Tony Cox.