How To Use Foreground and Background Techniques in Photography

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As a portrait photographer, my subjects are people and often in the foreground of my images, as they are the intended point of focus. To keep things interesting when composing my shot, I always keep the rule of thirds in mind. This rule suggests that you place your subject in the left or right third of an image, leaving the other two-thirds of your image more open. This draws the viewer to the image, as they have a focal point to gaze at. We are human, and our eyes need something to land at. If too much is going on in the shot, it causes the brain to view it as “static.”

The foreground and background of the image work in parallel with the focal point and the placement of the subject. The amount of foreground and background in the portrait creates a rhythmic, back-and-forth narrative between the viewer and the subject. Sometimes having too much background can take away from the subject and ultimately redirect the viewer’s eye elsewhere, so I tend to keep my aperture low and my shutter speed high. This gives the background a softer focus and my subjects in the foreground a sharper focus. 

In this example, the background sets the stage for this play date; while the subjects are slightly off-center, the leading lines of the pathway draw you into the foreground, towards the girls in their princess costumes. Does the placement of the playhouse in the background take away from the children posing in the foreground? Moving over slightly would have made a more distinct separation between the subjects and the background.

It’s important to know, that the background is just as important as the foreground, and framing the image requires many checks to ensure that all things within the image are essential. Are there any lines that are crooked or anything cutting into the subject? If you are shooting with black and white film, the contrast within the image in the background can help make the photo more dynamic and interesting to the eye. In this example, the shadows from the stairwell above create lines behind the subject create a minimalist backdrop for this close-up.

Here is truth. The entire frame is part of a synced equation. As a photographer, you get the opportunity to hone your craft and understand that with your eyes and instinctively snap that shutter button. It takes practice yet it is something that comes with time. Photography is the art of producing an image, but I call it more of the study of capturing the flawless design that is literally everywhere all the time, and yet gone in a flash. (Pun intended). The eye needs time to sharpen in different ways. Keep in mind that every piece of the frame is integral to its final imprint on the film negative. But no pressure! Just consider the fact that the foreground and background are critical components of the composition of an image, as they set the stage and provide context for the viewer. It is important to be mindful of all of these elements when creating an image, because if you forget to check you may end up with something distracting from your intended focus and message. I feel as thought this is a great rule of thumb to have, but this is also the kind of advice that you can store in the back of your brain. Sometimes reading a blog post can just help spark awareness in us. I hope this helps you in your photographic journey! Comment below if you have any further thoughts on ways to take this concept to the next level.

Author

  • Janae Jones is a photographer based in Brooklyn, NY from Seattle, WA. She studied and fell in love with photography at Seattle University, where she obtained my Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2009. Her background is in documentary work; spending the first 6 years of her career documenting the local hip-hop music and fashion scene in Seattle and what was coined "third wave" hip-hop. After years of photographing live performances, taking press photos, and creating images for album art, she decided that she wanted to try something new. In 2012, she moved to New York to find new inspiration, to further develop her style, and to continue to learn. She began her career as a freelance photo assistant and digital technician working for photographers with a variety of focuses that helped expand on and fine tune her personal work. She now focuses primarily on lifestyle and family portraiture.

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Janae Jones is a photographer based in Brooklyn, NY from Seattle, WA. She studied and fell in love with photography at Seattle University, where she obtained my Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2009. Her background is in documentary work; spending the first 6 years of her career documenting the local hip-hop music and fashion scene in Seattle and what was coined "third wave" hip-hop. After years of photographing live performances, taking press photos, and creating images for album art, she decided that she wanted to try something new. In 2012, she moved to New York to find new inspiration, to further develop her style, and to continue to learn. She began her career as a freelance photo assistant and digital technician working for photographers with a variety of focuses that helped expand on and fine tune her personal work. She now focuses primarily on lifestyle and family portraiture.