Make powerful iPhone photos by focusing on what’s important

iPhone Photography Series

Welcome back to our lessons in iPhone Photography. In today’s lesson I’m going to do my best to share a fairly abstract creative tool illustrated with a few concrete examples. Last week I was in Belize working on a new iPhone Photography book. The book will feature iPhone images following the world famous Hummingbird Highway from the eastern coast of Belize to the Guatemalan border in the west.

I shared the context of this project with you so you could see how I use the tool I’m going to present in this lesson. When you are working on a photography project with a finite time-frame and budget, you have to make images. There’s no option for returning the following day, or complaining that the muse isn’t with you.

In previous lessons I’ve shared ideas about changing perspective and compositional aids that can help in our creativity. However, this one single piece of photographic wisdom has served me better than anything else I’ve learned. One of my personal photographic heroes, Bruce Percy, says (this is a bit paraphrased) “whatever it is that initially draws you to a scene… that is what you should focus on.”

It is a simple, yet very powerful creative tool. I use this advice all the time by making whatever it is that attracted me to a scene the subject of my photograph and trying my best to reduce the other elements within the scene. As I mentioned in the beginning of this lesson, I want to illustrate how I’ve used this wisdom by sharing a few concrete examples from my recent trip to Belize…

Focus on Form

Color is often a distraction that will reduce the focus on what initially drew your eye to a scene. Monochromatic images are a great way to reduce the distraction and set your focus firmly on what the subject should be. In both these images, I was drawn to the form of the pilot and treeline.

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Fill Your Frame

If the scene will allow it, fill the frame with your subject. The plant life in both of these photographs were part of large gardens. However, what attracted me to them was the details in the dew and the repetition of the flowers. Had I photographed the larger scene, you would have no way of understanding my creative intent. By filling the frame with my interest, there is no way you can misunderstand it.

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Isolate Your Subject

Often you’ll find that what interests you is too large to fill your frame with. This was the case for both these images. In situations like this, I fall back on creative framing to isolate the subject. In the case of the bungalow, I opted for a portrait orientation so to avoid the additional visual weight a landscape orientation would have added to the scene. As for the beach chair, I was able to get close enough to place it soundly in the foreground which created separation from the elements in the background.

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In today’s lesson I hope you have learned that creativity isn’t always about flashes of inspiration. It is a skill that can be developed. As you apply the tools I have shared with you over this last year, your eye will improve and your image making will be come more fluid and natural. That being said, even longtime photographers have to fall back on these tools to craft their images.


Please tag your photos with #iDBFindFocus on Instagram so we can all see what caught your attention.

Justin Balog is an award winning photographer and film maker. You can follow is daily creative adventures at or learn more about iPhone Photography in his iBook ‘Big World Little Lens‘. Click Here for the iPad Version. To find out more about Justin, follow him on Twitter and Facebook.