Life is rarely framed as neatly as we compose our photos. Sometimes that’s exactly what we love about photography – it lends a frame to a piece of life that we might otherwise miss, it elevates the moment. But sometimes, that neat framing removes us from the feeling of the moment all together. One way to maintain the depth and realism of a moment is to include a foreground in your composition. Rather than just focusing on your subject, consider what you’re shooting past.
Why use foreground? A foreground is a simple, subtle way of telling more of your story. It can lend important details about the setting or message of your image, or can simply evoke the feeling of peeking in on a moment as it happens. It adds warmth and intimacy and gives your viewer an active roll in discovering the moment.
A lot of what I shoot is commercial photography in a large, blank studio. Any feeling of “real life” has to be created – a set, an action, a connection between models who may have just met. Setting up a foreground to shoot through, even if it’s just a blurry hint of something, is just as important to creating a realistic moment as directing the main action. Whether you’re directing models in a studio or capturing candid moments at home, remind yourself to get behind something when you’re thinking about your point of view.
How do you compose with foreground? Your foreground can be a small object that tells us more about the scene, like a wine glass, a laptop, an alarm clock. Or it can simply be an abstract piece of architecture – shooting into the room past the door frame, a curtain, or through a window is an easy way to set the scene of your photograph. I often shoot very closely past bright colored flowers, letting them even brush against my lens sometimes, to create a pop of color. Play around with different objects to shoot past – try glasses, vases, windows – and shoot them at various distances from your lens. Or shoot right past the person that you’re photographing! It can be hard to remember that not everyone in the photo has to be perfectly framed and facing you. As you can see in some of the samples above, showing just part of some people makes it feel more like you, and in turn your viewer, are also there in the room.
Happy shooting! – jamie