The Centre of Interest
You, the artist, govern the way in which a picture is viewed. You control what is seen first, how the eye of the viewer travels round the picture, and what is perceived as important. With careful planning and organization, any figure or object in the picture can be given special prominence or played down, and aspects of character and mood can be emphasized.
The first thing to decide upon is your centre of interest. This is the object, figure or group that is the main subject of the picture - i.e., what the picture is actually about. Although not necessarily in the centre of the picture area, it is what the picture's composition determines that the eye is naturally attracted to. Of course, it will rarely be the only thing you want the viewer to be aware of. but your composition must ensure that the roles played by the less important details are merely supporting ones.
One of the simplest ways in which the centre of interest can be given special prominence is by relating the shapes of the subsidiary picture elements to each other.
In picture 1, at the top left of this page, all the shapes are similar to each other. They are not exactly the same but their shapes bear some relation - they are therefore called 'related shapes'. Although they are randomly placed, they appear to form a fairly uniform pattern: no single box-shape stands out from the rest However, if we replace one of the box-shapes with a star - a shape completely unrelated to the rest - it stands out very clearly
(2). The eye is naturally attracted to it so that it becomes the centre of interest.
If, conversely, most of the shapes in the picture area are stars
(3), then it is the unrelated box-shape which becomes the centre of interest. The eye is naturally attracted to the shape that is different.
If all the shapes in the picture are very different from each other as in picture 4, there is no single distinctive feature for the eye to pick out and so there is no centre of interest. Only by relating the less important picture elements to each other is any single item given prominence.
Pictures 5 and 6 show Little Red Riding-Hood walking through the woods. By relating the shapes of the trees to one another, we cause them to form a pattern, and Little Red Riding-Hood, as a completely unrelated shape, features clearly as the centre of interest. Wherever we place her within this pattern of related shapes, she catches the eye: she becomes the subject of the picture.
The natural tendency to perceive as important anything that is sufficiently distinct in shape from its surroundings can be used effectively in any picture composition. The diagram at top right shows how the seated figures in the final picture form a related shape pattern, so that interest is focused on the standing figures. The exchanged glance between the two young people is what the picture is about. In the illustration at the bottom left of the page, the chimneys form a related-shape pattern and so give prominence to the silhouetted figure.
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