Clarity and focus in photography are two words that play heavily when you create plus evaluate a photograph. As a photographer you should take these terms into great consideration when you preplan or pre-visualize the process involved to create a conceptual photo or an editorial photo that tells a story.

Clarity and Focus in Photography Photo

The use of bokeh, low-light, side-light, and red wine add focus and clarity to this image.

Identify the Concept of Your Photographic Idea

Sometimes it helps if you start with a concept or idea that is inspired by life around you, or things you’ve seen or see, then study the concept in detail. Your first part is to examine what is the focus — the main activity, action, or point of interest in your final photo? As an example, a model on a bed is a cliché photograph of just another model on a bed. Change the model, change the bed, change the sheets, it doesn’t matter, it’s still cliché.

Now, add a glass of red wine and throw the main focus on the model with the use of a low-aperture bokeh feel for the background. Not only is the photo less or not cliché, but it tells a story of a romantic evening — red wine, low-light ambience, the soft-focused bed and the model not looking directly into the camera with the main light more from the side, not the front. And to add more mood to the intimate feeling, capture or convert the final photo into a black and white photograph.

The key is to incorporate your model into the scene, not the scene into the model. The focus is her, her mood, her thoughts. The same photographic feel is easily created in front of a fireplace, without a bed. While a bed and a fireplace can add to the story of the image, it’s actually the red wine in the wine glass that builds on the concept of a romantic or intimate evening and that comes more from human perception of red wine itself. Use a glass of water in the scene and the concept changes to that of a thirsty model.

When it comes to clarity and focus in photography you must identify the concept in order to achieve the photograph you’re after and part of the identification process starts with understanding the concept itself. In the case of these two photos of two different models we identified the importance of a glass of red wine. But in the second photo, notice on the camera’s right, there is a second wine glass and it’s empty, thus the story is different from the first photo.

Clarity and Focus in Photography Photo

The empty wine glass, camera right, brings less clarity to the story, but adds focus to the model’s mood.

In the first photo the model is relaxing on a bed with her glass of red wine and the focus is on her. It makes you feel you are there with her. In the second photo the model is looking down, almost a look of disappointment. Perhaps a bad day, perhaps her significant other has left her? The story isn’t as clear as the first photo, but this lack of clarity focuses you on the model’s mood and thoughts and makes you feel no other person, not even you, are there with her.

Find the Focus in Your Photos

Focus in general terms to a photo editor at first look is if the image is sharply focused, and if not, is selective focus used as part of the composition that draws you into the photo. Focus also means you must identify a focus point in the image whether it’s an actual subject, event, thing or action.

What is the main focus of the image is something to ask during a self-critique of your photos. Does the photograph keep the viewer focused on the intent of the image or does the viewer wander off because the image is weak and lost its focus? As you can see, the word focus when it comes to photography has various meanings, not just one.

When you have an image in focus, that provides an interesting focal point, and keeps the viewer focused on its intended message, a photo is said to have clarity. Clarity is often a simple but precise message, either apparent or implied in the photo, and when there is no clarity in an image, it’s said that the photo is ambiguous and can create confusion.

Find the Clarity in Your Photos

Clarity in photography also means that the photograph is properly executed following the principles, fundamentals and concepts of photography — in other words, the photo is properly exposed and composed. Similar to how clarity of a diamond factors into the value of a diamond, a photograph has less value if it’s full of flaws.

A photo with focus and clarity expresses a clear thought almost instantly to the viewer. A photographer has to take into account their intended audience, beyond the subject itself. The audience or viewers are in fact the litmus test of an image. What good is a movie if no one sees it? A still photograph is in fact just a frame captured in a fraction of a second of the movies in our minds. As Ansel Adams once stated, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”

Clarity and focus in photography starts when you preplan or pre-visualize a concept and when done properly, it provides the viewer insight into a photographer’s thoughts and the subject’s message. When clarity and focus in photography are successful in the execution of your photos, chances are you’ve created a masterpiece or an iconic photograph.


Rolando Gomez is a professional photographer and author of five photography books that has traveled to 45 countries for assignments. The former soldier and U.S. Army combat photographer has taught hundreds of photography workshops for almost two decades. A 2016, 2017 and 2018 Top Writer for Quora, his partial credits include Newsweek, Parade, Playboy, Rangefinder, Maxim, Rangefinder, New York Times, Stars & Stripes, and various other publications.
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