We spend so much time talking about avoiding bad backgrounds, but have you ever given thought to the foreground you’re using? I’m talking about the stuff in front of your subject. If it’s getting in the way, it can make your image look much less interesting. Here are a few tips to help you select the right foreground.
Get As Close As You Can To The Annoying Obstruction
Your eyes focus just like a camera. If you’ve ever been driving in the rain, you know you can focus your eyes just outside your windshield, and the rain in front of you will practically disappear. The same thing happens when you walk right up to a chain link fence. You can look beyond it to see what’s on the other side.
You can do the same thing with a camera so long as you get as close to the offending object as possible. Once there, you can pick a super-wide aperture (like f4 or f2.8), and literally throw your foreground out of focus. Wide apertures always reduce the depth of field, which is basically the portion of the image that is in focus. When less of the image is in focus, there’s a much greater chance that your annoying foreground will just disappear.
Make A Bad Foreground Into A Good One By Changing Your Angle And Moving Around
If you can’t get any closer to thing that’s standing in the way, you can always try to change your angle until you find something that works. Foregrounds can actually be a really good thing. They can frame your subject in a way that draws attention to it. As long as your foreground doesn’t cover up an important part of your subject, and it doesn’t dominate the frame, you can usually change a bad foreground into a good one.
Try to get your foreground to completely surround your subject. You can also try to confine your foreground to a certain portion of the frame. Here’s an example.
You’ll notice that the foreground doesn’t dominate the shot. It stays on the bottom of the frame, and it makes you feel like you’re watching all the action from some secret location. If the photographer had knelt down any lower, the foreground would cover the skier. Sometimes you only need to stand up to change a bad foreground into a good one.
Try To Avoid Drawing Too Much Attention To The Foreground
Every picture has 4 points that are naturally attractive to the eye. In the above picture, the skier occupies one of them. He’s right where the top third and the left third intersect. Other points of interest are located where the other thirds meet one another. Think top-right, bottom-left, and bottom-right.
While it’s always a great idea to place your subject where the thirds intersect, it’s not such a good idea to cover up those spots with your foreground. That’s because foregrounds tend not to have all that much going on in them. They don’t naturally attract the eye, so you shouldn’t place them in the most interesting parts of the photo.
You’ll also notice that the foreground in the skier photo stops where the bottom third begins. That wasn’t done by chance. If the foreground were to cover half of the frame, the image wouldn’t have nearly the same impact.
Be aware that this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Sometimes the foreground contains an interesting piece of action. If it does, you can disregard this rule and place the foreground object where two of the thirds meet one another. Look at your image and act on your gut. What you feel is probably right.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much more that you can do about bad foregrounds other than what I’ve outlined in this article. Try to get close enough to look past the obstruction, and if that doesn’t work, just change your angle ever so slightly. If you just can’t get past it, move on and shoot something else. Or try from another angle.
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