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Framing & Foreground, Subject and Background


Not one of my favourite techniques, but one which can produce excellent results under the right circumstances, is framing. This is where you use objects in the foreground to frame and thus emphasise the main subject of the picture. It is difficult to do well, because there is the risk that the foreground objects will distract the viewer from the main subject.

However if the framing objects are sufficiently nondescript and contrast from an eye-catching main subject then this compositional technique can work very well indeed.

In this example the framing doesn’t work, because too much of the foreground is visible and it distracts from the subject of the picture.

However by zooming in so that only a few leaves are visible the framing effect is a lot more successful.

It’s worth noting that largely thanks to the conventions used by decades of Hollywood movies, framed shots where most of the framing object is on the lower edge tend to look sinister, like you were stalking the subject, while a frame of overhanging foliage tends to be associated with romance, and is often used by wedding photographers.

Foreground, Subject and Background

When you are looking at your subject through the viewfinder of your camera, it’s easy to overlook what else is in the frame. You’re concentrating so hard on getting your model not to blink when the flash goes off that you completely miss that tree in the background that looks like it’s growing out of her head, or the discarded crisp packet lying distractingly in the corner of the frame.

As well as your subject, a photograph will usually have both a background and a foreground, and these are just as much a part of the image as the thing your are actually trying to photograph. The trick is to compose the photograph in such a way that you strike a balance between these different elements. When done properly this adds life and interest to the picture, as well as making it seem more natural.

Take this photo of a famous and much-photographed Dartmoor landmark, the ancient clapper bridge at Postbridge.

It’s very easy to simply take a snapshot of the bridge, but that simply looks the same as the photographs that hundreds of visitors take of it every year. It’s very pretty, but it’s also a little dull. By including some foreground detail, and positioning the camera to capture the background of the moorland and forest, the bridge is now one element of a much more balanced shot, and one which shows the bridge in its surroundings.

Similarly this photo of a familiar London landmark is flat and boring, and doesn’t really show the building in the context of the city around it.

By choosing a completely different location we can add foreground detail the shot, and instantly it becomes more balanced and dynamic. Of course the improved weather helps too, but that’s another thing to which you should pay attention when composing a photograph.

In the next instalment, I’ll take a look at leading lines, perspective, compositional balance and attempt to explain the Golden Section without mathematics, which may in fact be impossible.


Link to 2 of this tutorial.


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