How to highlight the subject of a photo

There are different techniques we use to highlight the subject of our photos. I have collected some methods, tips and ideas to give you some inspiration.


One of the main purposes of taking a photo is to show something. It can be a face, an action, a mountain, or anything else worth photographing. What these have in common is that they have one or more subjects that we want to present. Therefore, we need to find a good way to emphasize the subjects of the photo or distinguish them from the other elements of the picture.

I hope you find the following tips inspiring. Furthermore, I hope you will think of them when you encounter a situation where you could use them.

Selective focus to highlight the subject

In fact, this is one of the most common techniques for making a subject stand out. Using a wider aperture and a shallower depth of field, you can separate the subject from the background and foreground through blur. It will guide the eye to the sharpest part of the image, which is the focal point.

This is a simple way to direct attention, let’s look at some examples.

how to highlight the subject of a photo 1Photo: Peter Ujvari

Talking about shallow depth of field in landscape photography is an interesting topic. Usually, we want the depth of field to be as large as possible, however, there are special cases where this approach is useful.

My favorite examples come from photos of forests and woodlands. The first photos of this kind I saw were taken by Mark Littlejohn and Charles Cramer. Regardless, their work absolutely stood out to me and their photos really inspired me.

The core idea is that in the woodland the background and subject merge visually, and with this adjustment we have a tool to separate them.

I recently watched a video about this by Toma Bonciu and he did a great job explaining why and how it works.

how to highlight the subject of a photo 2Photo: Toma Bonciu

Guide Lines

Besides being a powerful composition technique, it also allows you to highlight your main subject by drawing attention directly to the subject of your image. Look for curves and lines (not just straight lines), and try to use them creatively.

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how to highlight the subject of a photo 3Introducing the topic – Peter Ujvari


Playing with color is fun. Placing your subject in an environment with slightly different (or completely different) colors is an effective way to do this.

When shooting portraits, it’s best to find a background and clothing with contrasting colors for your model. This technique is also very effective when shooting still life or food.

how to highlight the subject of a photo 4

The above method is also commonly used in nature and landscape photography.

how to highlight the subject of a photo 5900 Color Comparison Examples – Photo by Charles Cramer

There are other variations you can consider as well. You can experiment with vibrancy or how matte and glossy colors work together. There is a lot of potential when it comes to working with color, so keep exploring.


When it comes to attracting attention, light is a great choice. There are many ways to use it in your photos. No matter which genre we are talking about, light can be used creatively.

First, you can directly light your subject in some way. You can use direct light, reflected light, diffused light, artificial light, or natural light, but the key here is to draw attention to the brightest part of the image, which is the subject. Sometimes I see photos of flowers where the background is completely black, and the flowers themselves are beautifully lit by flash or strobe lights. As for still life images, I personally use some kind of continuous lighting setup, and for portraits, I really like to use natural light.

how to highlight the subject of a photo 6Photo: Peter Ujvari

how to highlight the subject of a photo 7Gesau National Park – Photo by Gabor Boszormenyi

Alternatively, you can use a beam of light and keep the rest of the image semi-dark. You can see some detail in the dark area, but it won’t distract from the main subject.

how to highlight the subject of a photo 8Using the Beam – Peter Ujvari

Conversely, you can turn these light and dark games upside down in order to emphasize the subject. For example, if everything in the picture except the subject is bright, this can also attract the eye. One of the variations is the silhouette image, when your subject is completely black and the background is bright. This way, only the shape of the subject is visible, so make sure it is recognizable.

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how to highlight the subject of a photo 9Silhouette Example – Gabor Boszormenyi

As for post-processing, you can use different techniques to draw attention. If your subject is in the center of the frame, you can use a vignette. Also, you can use the brush and gradient local adjustment tools to darken or lighten certain parts. Anyway, these methods are really commonly used.

Solid color background

Placing your subject against a solid background will make it the only thing that draws the eye. The best approach is to create a contrasting color or light tone between your subject and the background. Try changing your position, perspective, or angle to get the best effect.

how to highlight the subject of a photo 10Use a solid background to emphasize your subject – Peter Ujvari

Get closer

It may happen that you are too far away from the subject to make it out, or there are many distracting elements in the frame. There are more solutions to this problem. First, you can get closer to the subject, if possible. Secondly, if there is a telephoto lens, you can use it instead. Finally, if the resolution is large enough, you can crop the image in post-processing.

how to highlight the subject of a photo 11Dolomites – Peter Ujvari

Learn more about

It may sound strange, but in some cases, moving away from your subject can be a better approach. This way you can find alternative backgrounds and look for new angles and perspectives. From a distance, you may be able to spot leading lines or any other emphasis elements. Also, with a telephoto lens, you can separate your subject from unwanted parts, or it can make cluttered elements look better when you are not too close to the subject.

Additionally, moving away from your subject, the differences between elements or the uniqueness of your subject can be expressed in a more effective way.

In this example, the scenery becomes more and more interesting as we move further away from the subject. With the leading lines, the small waterfall becomes the only standout part of the otherwise unified forest scene.

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how to highlight the subject of a photo 12Photo: Gabor Boszormenyi

Look for distractions and possibilities

If something breaks the order, it automatically draws our eye. When an object or element doesn’t fit in with its environment, it will be emphasized if the picture is well composed. Try to look for strange or distracting elements in the system. It may be different in color, shape, alignment, pattern, etc.

how to highlight the subject of a photo 13Istanbul, Turkey – by Peter Ujvari

Eliminate distractions

Try to get in the habit of checking the entire frame through the viewfinder. Look for distractions and make sure to eliminate any elements that you don’t want in the final result.

You can move your subject or move around it. Also, you can try different angles shooting from a lower or higher position. Also, you can get closer or farther away from your subject, so try moving around and find the perfect position.

If you later notice some distracting elements, or you can’t produce an image without any distracting elements, you can always fix the image in the post-processing process. However, I always try to get the images perfect in the camera, and I recommend you do the same. This will shorten your post-processing process and force you to think more, be more creative, develop your eye and gain more experience in the field.

how to highlight the subject of a photo 14Portrait of Gabor taken from a lower angle because of the surrounding mountains and bushes in the background.

All in all, I hope this list of tips and tricks will help you successfully highlight the subject of your photos. I also hope that you can get some inspiration from the example images. Don’t stop watching, experimenting, and learning, we will continue to do all this too.

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