Embrace the chaos theory for interesting photos


Focal point? What focal point?

The theory goes that a photo always needs a focal point. There has to be a distinct element to it to draw the eye of the viewer and maintain interest. It's a very good rule, too. We see an awful lot of photos where the first question that springs to mind is 'What am I meant to be looking at here?' There's no way into the photo for the viewer, which means it fails as a means of expression. Deciding upon a story to tell and a subject to convey it are critical factors for any photographer.

 The deadly undulations of tobacco

The deadly undulations of tobacco

The focal point doesn't have to be enormous–the eyes in a portrait are a perfect focal point–but it does have to stand out in some way. Contrasts work brilliantly: a yellow and black bumble bee on a lavender flower, or a person facing in a different direction to the rest of the crowd, for example. And of course there's the help of sharp focus and blurred background.

 Devastated antipasti

Devastated antipasti

Having a focal point is of course the theory, the rule. And rules, once you understand them, are there to be broken. When it comes to focal points, we've already seen how peaceful compositions, without a leading line or a glaringly obvious focal point, can be incredibly successful. So, however, can allowing the pendulum to swing to the other end of the spectrum, and throwing in your lot with a chaotic kaleidoscope of a photo.

 So much colour!

So much colour!

Rather than looking for a pinpoint of interest, create an image into which the viewer can hurl themselves headlong and revel. Chaotic photos aren't subtle; they scream their stories loudly. Frequently it's the chaos itself that conveys the all-important narrative: the riot of colour, the confusion of lights, the array of choice. Remember, if you know what the story is and work to tell it, the photo will win through.