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photography 101: creating visual interest

photography 101: creating visual interest

a visual story

In my previous post: photography 101 : composition inc. the rule of odds I ended on the hierarchy of elements that help make a photograph visually interesting. A good visual story has a main subject, and supporting characters. The stories that interest us the most are usually described as having more visual weight, that is what draws the eye to your hero subject. You’ve got to make it the most interesting part of the photograph. This way your viewer will be drawn to it.

There are many elements that can help you place your hero subject in the spotlight. Below are a few. If you have any more suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

negative space

Negative space is the empty area that surrounds the components in an image. Leaving a large amount of space adds lightness, the space opens up your photo, and makes it feel more spacious, as though your giving the subject room to breathe.

If the frame is full of too many patterns, colors or shapes it becomes too distracting. Give the hero subject a little bit of breathing space. For stock photography (what I do for Unsplash) negative space allows the consumer to add text.
Sometimes subjects look better when left alone or without much company; other times it might be stronger in a group. There is never just one correct method to apply. Play around with it. If it doesn’t feel right try some troubleshooting.
When I’m doing a project I often search for photos with negative space so I can easily add text, whether using a photo editor or in a web-page for adding text and buttons.

For the WordPress website Freitag, that I customized I used a full screen slider. Images with negative space were the best choices for adding layers of text. 


With the mouse over below you can see two of the slides, are open the website to see them in full size. 



You’re setting up your shot and something doesn’t feel right. Is it the placing of the hero subject? Maybe it’s not getting the attention it needs? The props might be trying to steal the show? Maybe your photo lacks contrast, or a prop is too distracting? It could be many different things. and sometimes it helps to go over the things that can add visual interest. Those methods that have been tried and proven. You don’t have to use any of them, your photo, your rules. However if you’re trying to figure out why your photos aren’t as good as you’d like, you may want to refer to the basic rules of composition. If you want to make really great photos that are going to get attention —keep working with the methods until it becomes natural.

Below is an overview of things that can help you troubleshoot and better prepare your compositions.

Photo by Samee Anderson on Unsplash


stealing the spotlight

If a plate or bowl has a heavy pattern, there is always a risk that the prop is stealing the show. A background that is too busy will also be distracting.


In the photo from Samee the pattern of the bowl is distracting from the hero, the soup.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

In this example from Brooke, the spoon has a design, but it compliments the food and doesn’t draw your attention away from the hero. 


A background that is too busy can also be distracting. Be careful to use props, colors and lighting that compliments your subject.

These cherries are the star. The patterned plate and utensils aren't stealing the show.

Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash


A strong contrast always draws the eye. Contrast places all eyes on the hero by focusing the light only on the subject —contrasting it with deep shadows. A prominent color contrast, such as bright subjects on a dark background, or the other way around, as well as striking difference between the texture of the food and that of the background will make your subject pop.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Sharp Focus

sharpness on the hero

In the photo above Brooke has placed the focus on the hero subject, the drink. Had the ginger and other elements been sharper, or even sharp this would have been a different photo.

Photo by Alex Loup on Unsplash

Blurred movement

There is always an exception. In contradiction to sharp focus you have blurred movement which can really draw the eye. Having a sharp image, but having a subject move that is blurred because you used a slow shutter speed to capture it is where the eye will go.


In the image above from Alex your eye goes directly to the egg. Look. See what I mean!


Movement also creates a more interesting photo!

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash


Try surprising your viewer with something like a flying detail captured with a fast shutter speed. People look twice at things that surprise them! 

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Bring it to life

adding movement & life

This photo from Brooke would be less interesting had there not been a hand in it.

Adding a human element to your photos makes it more pleasing to look at. Less flat. It’s often referred to in Food Photography quite simply as “hands to the frame.” Hands connecting with food make a scene look more natural. The hands almost invite the viewers' hands to interact. It pulls them in and makes them feel like they’re helping, not just observing.

Photo by Ana Tavares on Unsplash

Obviously keep your hands clean and tidy! Also depending on your subject you may want to remove nail polish, or add it (unless you don’t like using it… it isn’t needed). In my flatlay non-food I add nail polish because I don’t like my fingernail color. It makes them look a bit eleganter. While kneading bread I think it would look really bad with nail polish. I wouldn’t want to eat that bread!


Hands don’t need to be the focus of the image or interacting with the main subject. Having a plate focused and someone in the background picking up a bowl can have a powerful image. It helps create a story.


Too much

or too flat?

My own photo as an example of a flat photo. It would be visually more interesting had I been stirring the mix or placing something in the scene. Had I applied the rule of odds I think it would have been much more interesting. Also the bowl either in the center, or using the rule of thirds. See how much we can learn in a short time! This was only taken a few months ago. I can’t wait to apply these composition methods to my next shoot!

Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash


I personally find this an interesting composition technique and something I want to work with more. Layers. They allow you to add elements that work cohesively together and tell a story. They give a photo texture. In Food Photography layers work miracles with flat foods, that don’t have a very distinct texture.


Layers can be anything. A backdrop, fabric, props, the food itself when it creates a nice texture and so on.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash


Look at this, another great photo from Brooke Lark. Your eye ends up on the text.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Repeating patterns

Patterns are one of the most if not the most graphical food photography composition technique of them all, especially when all the elements in the frame are the same. Another powerful way to draw interest to your photo is to remove an object from the repeating pattern. If it were for example donuts it would beg the question 'Who ate that?" 

Shapes & Bland Colors

Shapes & Bland Colors

get up close

The heroes

Don’t be afraid to get close to your subject. If you’re photographing something with a nice shape and texture— get up close. While prepping for your shot go through the contents and look for the best ones. Spend time finding the heroes, set them aside and use them front and center in your shot.

next time around

curves & lines

I don’t know about you but I’m excited for my next shoot which will be next week. I’m going to be shooting for Valentines Day. I’m hoping all of these methods will become more natural with time. While searching through Unsplash for photos I’m thinking “I need to have good examples from my own photography of  WHAT TO DO!” For now I’d tag my photos with needs improvement and an A for effort! For now I’ll just keep on moving forward trying to learn with each shoot.

Next week I’ll share with you on using lines, curves and color theory in your compositions. I’m also working on a post for Flatlay Photography, including my set-up at home. I’ll tell you why I ditched my tripod for overhead photography. 

I’ll also be posting my resources for these posts. There are so many talented people out there. I read, and watch tons of tutorials and books on the subject of photography. I’ll be in the future embedding videos from other like-minded creatives that have a lot to share with us. 

Thanks for stopping by. Have a good weekend!


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