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A viewer's eye is always drawn to the subject that's in sharpest focus. If everything except your main subject is considerably out of focus, you've created what many think is the most beautiful effect in photography– that of "selective focus." In selective focus, the main subject is sharp, and everything in front and in back of it is blurred.
Coming close to your desired subject and opening your lens to a wide aperture will give you that shallow depth of field. For larger subjects (people, for example) a longer lens is very useful in achieving this shallower depth of field. You will have more control over focus by using a lens with a manual focus ring, preferably while using a digital SLR so you can confirm focus in the viewfinder. Of course you can use autofocus, and if you know how to select an AF target your focus might be more accurate than what you'd get focusing manually.
Result? You'll guarantee that the viewer's attention will go to the subject you focused on. Learn more about depth-of-field and selective focus.