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Quick Tip: 3 Ways to Master Your Use of Foregrounds


How often do you think about foregrounds? If you have a natural eye for composition, you might be including interesting foregrounds without even thinking about it. However, putting in the conscious effort to place foreground elements in the frame will drastically improve your photos. Ready to create some striking and memorable images?

Showing "Hidden" Elements

Creating a narrative in your images is one of the fundamental practices in photography. One way to do that is reveal something to the viewer that someone in the photo does not know or can't see.

Image Credit: Hide and Seek by Estoril

This image is a straightforward execution of this technique. By placing the hiding child in the foreground, it give the impression to the viewer that they are hiding with the boy.

Not only does this create more of a story, but it also creates contrast. Viewers are now experiencing something they didn't expect. It's the difference between telling viewers exactly what something is and letting them create their own stories and observations.

In photography, it's important to make your audience feel or think, rather than just saying, "things are the way they are."

Draw Attention To The Background

When we look at an image, our eyes transition to and from different parts of that image. You can use composition direct the viewer. Using a foreground element to lead the viewer into the background is a great way to make your photos more dynamic.

Image Credit: Abandoned Suitcases by Cameron Knight

In this image, the first suitcase at the bottom of the frame grabs your attention. Then the compositional technique called "repetition of form" goes to work. The repeating shapes of the other suitcases lead the viewer toward the background of the image where they can see the expansive empty space.

Foregrounds shouldn't distract or take away anything from what you want to capture. Even the simplest use of a foreground can draw interest and guide eyes towards the background.

Another compositional technique you could utilize in this way is "leading lines." Our eyes naturally follow lines, so if something starts in the foreground and leads to background, we'll follow it.

Where Is The Focus?

The depth of field you choose to create will dramatically change the look of your image. Whether you make the background blurry and the foreground sharp, or the foreground blurry and the background sharp, or have it all in focus, depends on your vision and the subject matter.

Image Credit: Construction by Antoinette Seaman

First, remember that depth of field depends on a few factors, including aperture, focal length, the distance between you and the subject, and the distance between subject and the background. That being said, each of the three options have their place.

Using a sharp background helps to isolate and direct attention to the subject and lead viewers deeper into the image. Having the foreground there, but out of focus can create better composure, while not distracting from your main subject with sharp detail. Use this technique when you want more interesting composition, but you don't want any distracting elements in the frame.

Using a sharp foreground can add a sense of mystery or wonderment. Viewers can't tell exactly what's going on in the background, but can instead paint their own assumptions. A purposefully blurry background can also help to distance viewers from the scene and make them want to see more.

Image Credit: Wedding by Cameron Knight

Keeping everything in focus brings your foreground and background together and compresses them. You can do this by keeping your aperture small, around f/16-22. You can use this to make your images have a super sharp, almost hyperrealism to them. You see deep depth of fields used with HDR landscapes for this very reason. Another reason to have everything sharp is to emphasize the small details, through this works best with uncluttered compositions. 

Image Credit: Surf by Antoinette Seaman

Start Experimenting with Foregrounds Today!

Understanding how foreground can benefit your images will do wonders for your photography. Using the techniques I've covered today, you can add dramatic narrative to your pictures, lead the viewer through your photo in a dynamic way, or even completely change the mood of your work.

Do you have any tips for working with foregrounds? Leave a comment below!

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