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Focal Point: Jade Style!Photoshop | Beginner | Translatable

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#1 snicket!


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Posted 23 March 2018 - 04:15 PM

focal point: jade style!

In this edition of "tutorials no one really asked for but Jade is providing anyway," we're going to look at focal point! As always, this tutorial is full of opinions, so you can take it with a pinch of salt if you want and I won't be offended, but it's just a lot of observation, some practise, etc.

This tutorial is very translatable, one hopes, and it's probably best suited to a beginner, but y'know.

To keep things simple, I'm only gonna talk about the basics of focal points - in other words, the tips and tricks, maybe a few pitfalls we might fall into. Composition is a natural partner to focal points, I think, but no one asked me to write about comp. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


But what is focal point and why are we so super focused (haha) on it? When you break it down, I always consider focal point to be best thought of something like this:

What is the most important thing on the canvas? When someone looks at my graphic, what do I want them to look at first? Great, that's my focal point. Good talk!

For example, in this signature, I really want people to look at the girl first. Lo and behold, she's the biggest thing on the canvas.
I don't think anyone can argue she's not the 'focal point'. Sure, there's two other pictures of her, some text, a background, and I'm sure people will notice that eventually when they look at the signature properly, but really, she's the most important thing to me - it was the picture that had me wanting to make the set, after all.

Sometimes it's not as easy as just making someone the biggest thing on the canvas though (tragically!). Let's look at something a little more complex, like a banner that might require things to go over the whole canvas.

* August 2016 banner!
Like, sure, the main guy is pretty big, but there's quite some text on here, and another dude and some other text and it's really just a lot.

This is where eyeline comes in handy! I consider eyeline to be best summarised as:

There's a lot going on. The people looking at my graphic will naturally follow the eyeline of anyone on my canvas. That will keep my focal point in one place.

In this case, I have some text at the side I'd really like people to look at, because I worked very hard on it and people should appreciate that. I always consider where my models are looking on the canvas. We naturally look at people first on a canvas, so if they're looking at or near something in particular, we're going to naturally want to follow where they're looking. So, with the bigger guy looking somewhat to the right, I can get people to look at my v hard-worked-upon text. The other guy is smaller, next to some smaller text, so we'll notice him second - helpfully, he's also looking towards my main text/bigger dude, so everything tells you, 'Hey, the most important thing on this canvas is the blonde guy!'

The rest of the graphic was irrelevant to me, so we don't consider that part of the focal point. In case that's confusing, here's a hastily drawn-upon example!


Eyeline is a pretty handy reference when making graphics with a lot going on, because, for me especially when I was starting out, I struggled to tie things together across a canvas. Where someone is looking on a canvas can really help with focal points.

Like, what if happens if everyone is looking off in every other direction?

* July 2015 banner!

Well, it's not a bad banner, but it's not my favourite either. With both guys looking off in different directions, my main text is hard to spot at first in the middle there. The guy at the back is also pretty big, but he's competing with the guy in the front, because the guy at the back isn't in colour - to me, this isn't the best banner I could have made, because it makes your eyes do this:
in order to look in two different directions to take in the whole banner.
And you still don't get to look at my main text. What's the point of that?

If I went back in time, I might flip one of them to look towards my main text. We might end up with something like this:

Sure, no one is looking at my smaller text ("There'll be no clear skies") but there's still a person near it, so it'll be spotted eventually. In this case, we notice the biggest girl first, then we notice the smaller person who is looking at my main text, tying things neatly together. (As in the case of the top banner, I don't care about people looking at my backgrounds. This is all about my focal point and how I'm tricking people into only looking where I want them to!)

But don't feel constrained by eyeline to make focal points work! Sometimes, you can rely on people spotting it eventually - as long as you're doing it intentionally, and not because you forgot :P

My main guy isn't looking at the text at all on this banner, but I'm not angry about it. After all, there's only two spots of white on the canvas - the guy (which you'll notice first) and a tiny portion of the text.

We look at people first, but we'll also be naturally inclined to look at the brightest thing on the canvas (in my case, the whole canvas, all the time, everywhere. Bring sunglasses!). So, for this banner, eventually people will see the bright spot of text and read the whole thing. Also, it's not particularly boring text - it's colourful and weirdly dynamic for me, so it's not like it's gonna fade into the background.

Speaking of colour and dynamics, a common thread in a lot of these graphics is the colouring itself. The foreground of the graphic (where people are) is usually warmer or brighter, partially because the people are bigger (and people, hopefully, do not have blue skin! But, if the colouring is done by Jade, they may be orange), and partially because when we look at graphics, we naturally look at the warmer tones rather than a blue- or green-toned background. By playing around with the colours across a canvas, we can get people looking at what we want them to look at.

I'm really hoping you're spotting another pattern in these graphics, which is that in every graphic (yes, even in the 2015 one), the focal point is kept closer together. It's not on two halves of the canvas - if I've decided that the focal point will be on the left, then the majority of the important things on the graphic will be on the left. After all, I want people to look there. I'm going to make an effort to force people to keep their eyes there, and I'll use all the excess space to look pretty and make my focal point look amazing- like the unnamed members of Maroon 5.

The last thing I'll cover before I sign off is text as focal point, which absolutely can be done along the exact same lines, ignoring anything that would be considered typography, where the focal point is naturally text anyway.

For once, I'll use a chapter image*.
* Because it's the only time I can think of in recent memory where I've trusted myself to do text as a focal point I mean what.

I think it's a given in this case that people are going to see the bright yellow 'GENTLEMAN' first, but I did very politely help them along, by miraculously having two people looking somewhat directly at it, and no one is looking off-canvas. That way, even though this is kind of a busy chapter image (four people dotted all over the place, a fair amount of text), the focal point is still very obvious!

People don't need to look directly at your text all the time in your graphics - that might get boring very quickly, and only I'm allowed to be boring - but, especially starting out, it's a good rule of thumb to follow! The more you figure out how to build up a focal point, the more you can break the rules \o/

This is getting wordy, so I'll leave it here, but my hope is that this kind of breaks down what people mean when they talk about focal point! In critique especially, it can be a weird thing to throw out, so my goal was to really explain how to make one happen, and what ways you can trick people into thinking that you know exactly what you're doing :P

You're absolutely free to leave comments/ask me quick questions, or my artist q&a is +here if you need to desperately know why my 2015 graphics look like that.


Edited by ailhsa, 12 May 2018 - 01:36 PM.
moved to Featured Tutorials - 12th May 2018

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#2 Kirjava


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Posted 23 March 2018 - 04:23 PM

Jade this is so so incredibly helpful - thank you for posting it! (Also I love your sense of humour in this whole thing it had me giggling all the way through). I've always sucked at focal points so this is going to make such a huge difference and I've learnt so much just by reading your tutorial.


Thank you for posting it!


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#3 magnifique.


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Posted 02 April 2018 - 09:19 AM

I've been away from TDA (and graphics) for awhile, so I'm definitely rusty but your tutorial was so clear and well-thought and very helpful when conceptualizing why certain layouts work and others don't, even if at first glance they look similar. Thank you so much for writing it!! :loves:

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#4 wrecklesstornado

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Posted 24 July 2018 - 09:40 AM

This really helps thank you so much.

#5 amaranthe

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Posted 24 July 2018 - 04:26 PM

This was a great tutorial! and very useful! thank you!

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