2.10. Principles: Emphasis

Emphasis is what makes elements of a composition stand out. 

You can emphasise something using its position, using converging lines, or by making it unusual, by creating a focal point in your composition.

When you have a main subject, a focal point you actually allow that particular element to stand out from the others.

The main methods used to create emphasis are:

1. Contrast - it is related to that part of a composition 

2. Placement - the closer an element is to the centre of a composition, the more our eyes are led to it 

3. Convergence - lines or other elements can draw closer together to create a focal point

4. Isolation - you main subject sits separately from a group of other elements 

5. Unusual - something that looks unusual will catch the attention.

1. Contrast

The principle is used mainly when you want one element to stand out and catch the eye.


Elements are in contrast when they are opposites in terms of :

- light intensity:  dark vs light

- colour: warm vs cool - could be different elements or background color vs elements in that composition

* In terms of colour, please remember that:

- warmer colour draw quicker the attention than cooler colours

- intense ones stand out compared to muted or pale, neutral shades and tones.

Pic 1

2. Placement

Usually eyes are drawn to the middle of a composition, but it is also proven that when facing a screen, people are used to start reviewing the content from top left to bottom right.

3. Convergence

This method is used a lot and translated into a photography technique called leading lines. These can be explicit (like a road, a path) or created implicitly by surrounding elements like: the way they are displayed, the mode the light creates a path in the picture. 

When lines or other elements draw closer together, they can be used to draw the attention to the main subject, to a focal point.

Emphasis has played an important role in architectural paintings:

Pic 2


4. Isolation

When you isolate your main subject from the rest of the elements in your composition, this will create a specific visual weight. Isolation should carefully consider that the composition remains balanced.

5. Unusual elements

When you use an element that is unusual / odd compared to the others in your composition, then the attention of the viewer can stay longer, trying to figure out what is that composition all about. 

Emphasis through unusual elements is also highly connected to proportion -  unusual sizes compared to out body will catch the attention in a composition.

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