I've been told that this picture has no point of interest.
Does this mean that there are too many elements in focus here?

I would like to understand the meaning and the reasons behind it and how to improve it.

enter image description here

  • I personaly would find the photo more intreresting without the candels lying on the floor. The 4 candles on the right and the matcher alone already tell a story to me. – Paolo Mar 6 '12 at 13:40
  • @Paolo but I put the candles on the floor as an indicator that these fresh candles are going to meet the same fate. :) – Aquarius_Girl Mar 6 '12 at 13:55
  • This is verging on being a photo critique request which is not part of the remit of this site. If you could could re-edit to be more general and less about this specific photo it would probably be more likely to stay open. – ElendilTheTall Mar 6 '12 at 13:56
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    @ElendilTheTall Doesn't the meta say that if you have a "specific" question to ask about a photo then you can proceed? – Aquarius_Girl Mar 6 '12 at 14:03
  • @ElendilTheTall: let's take this to meta... meta.photo.stackexchange.com/questions/2039/… – mattdm Mar 6 '12 at 14:07

I think this falls under "ignore those people".

There's a lot of well-meaning beginner advice like "fill the frame!" and this "make sure there's a dominant point of interest". A point of interest is simply what it says — a point that attracts your attention — and a dominant point is one that is obviously the focus of the picture and makes the intent of image easy to instantly grasp.

This is designed to give your photo "pop" and instant wow. That may be important for stock photography, and it's certainly the right thing if your point is to simply say "hey, look at this thing!" It probably helps you win online photo contests.

But it doesn't necessarily make a great photograph. A good composition should encourage and reward exploration, and the viewer should want to take a few moments to take in the detail. If the photo is obvious, it's also easy to put aside.

Your image photo is simple, without a lot of extra bother, and I think each element has a part to play. There are, in fact, many points of interest, and while none is dominant, they work nicely together as a whole. I like the sequence from new to old, and I like the balance of the bright burning candles and the unlit, "waiting" candles in the dark. That adds both story elements and is nice visually. And the match — a catalyst. To me, this tells a story (the story, maybe — it's about life and death!). The composition is great, and I wouldn't cut anything from it.

If an image has many different points of interest and they're not connected, that's just clutter and should be rethought. If there were random items in the background, for example, you might want to reconsider.

On a technical note, it might be nice if there were slightly more depth of field, so the match would also be in focus. I can think of a few other technical and compositional comments too — but I think you're spot on with the interest of this photograph.

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    Yes, the frame is clearly half empty. That's a perfectly valid artistic choice and I think it works very well. (It's almost a perfect square, too, and that's often an effective tool in composition. – mattdm Mar 6 '12 at 14:16
  • I'll try to find some examples of obviousness to add later today. – mattdm Mar 6 '12 at 14:16
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    @AnishaKaul — f/8 sounds like a small aperture, and it might be good enough to get everything in focus in a landscape, but the closer (more magnified) your subject is, the shallower the DoF will be at a given aperture. A smaller aperture may have been more appropriate, as may focusing slightly (millimeters) in front of the candles and letting the DoF bring them into relatively sharp focus. (That's very hard to force yourself to do; nothing will be perfectly sharp at the focusing aperture and the DoF preview is too dark and small to show you what the result will be. Experiment.) – user2719 Mar 6 '12 at 16:38
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    "My aim was here to make the viewers eyes drag from left to right" My eyes did the opposite; I was drawn to the biggest brightest flame in the bottom right, then the other lit tall candle, then the burnt out candle in the very bottom right corner, then the match, after that the tall unlit candle and the group of lying candles last. – Jakub Sisak GeoGraphics Mar 6 '12 at 18:30

Your photograph is very much in the tradition of the Vanitas (the examples on the Wikipedia page hardly do the subject justice). Even the tonality reminds me of a Dutch/Flemish master. It may not be en vogue these days, but there is beauty in its starkness.

Apart from the depth-of-field issue Matt talked about in his answer, I'd like you to consider this minor crop:

cropped original image (low rez)

I've taken about ten percent off of the top and left, trying to leave the image with roughly the same proportions (I'd expect you'd take more care then I did with this quick snip if you do decide to crop). Remember that this is your image, and that I'm just this guy on the internet with an opinion, and that both the image and the answer can be deleted if you find either offends.

The idea behind the crop is to "optically balance" the image a bit better—because the highlights on the left are so dim compared to the right, they seem to work better to me when given a longer lever arm, so to speak. It also raises the relative height of the brightest flame (the candle closest to its ultimate fate) slightly. Obviously, this is a very subjective thing, and it's just something to consider (and too long to have been just a comment).

As careful as we try to be with composition at exposure time, sometimes the "real composition" can't truly be seen until we have the processed image in front of us, after we've made our decisions about the brightness of highlights and the depth of shadows. I've always tried to stay open to the idea of a different crop from the one I had originally planned (within reason—shooting blindly with an ultra-wide-angle lens in the hope that you can find Waldo/Wally in post can be fun, but it's hardly the way to go about things).

  • @AnishaKaul — the highlights are simply the brightest areas in the picture, the opposite of shadows. The word, in photographic terminology, does not indicate significance (as it does in many colloquial uses), just brightness. – user2719 Mar 7 '12 at 1:25
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    @AnishaKaul — because I'm an artist, someone who has from time to time depended on his own creative work for income, and I modified your work without explicit permission (even if the licenses in force here tend to imply it). I'm a little sensitive to the issue. And because your own vision and expression is more important than mine (or any other armchair critic's)—take whatever criticism helps you achieve that, and leave the rest behind. – user2719 Mar 7 '12 at 16:30

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