Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Advanced Composition: Advanced Photography Part III

Hello all! I am done with traveling for school so hopefully I will be able to return to more regular posting shortly. Today's post is about advanced elements of composition and how you can use them to improve your photography. I will be building on this post, Composition Basics (so if you haven't read that one, you may want to head over and do so).

You may also want to check out my other Advanced Photography pages:

Part I : Exposure Compensation
Part II: Special Effects

Not ready for advanced photography? View basic tips here.

Got it? Here we go.

So beyond the Rule of Thirds, what are the other elements of composition?

Well, there is another concept in composition that deals with the way space is treated in an image. There are three main spaces to consider: the foreground (in front), the midground (in the middle), and the background (obviously in the back). What are these spaces, and what do they mean for your photography?

Lover's Key
The foreground, midground, and background concepts allow you to better organize the space within the frame. Having discrete foreground, midground, and background elements can strengthen your photography by helping you build more interesting compositions. Here is a breakdown of the compositional spaces in the photograph above:

You can see that this image has all three spaces. The purpose of the foreground is to "ground" an image, as the sandbar in the above picture demonstrates. The foreground gives the eye something to "grab" on to, and then (hopefully) draws the eye toward the subject. It is especially important to have foreground elements in landscape photography, as the subject is often not a discrete item. Generally, the subject is placed in the midground, allowing it to be framed by the foreground and the background. 

The background should "support" the subject without adding more visual detail to the picture. A background with too much detail can be distracting from the subject, and will weaken your composition.Here, the clouds frame the sunset without overpowering it.

White Pelicans at Ding Darling NWR
Here is another example. In this image, the flock of wading birds helps frame the larger pelicans. Notice that the wading birds are not in focus, preventing them from being too distracting from the subject.

This picture has less of a defined background, but the blue water provides a nice contrast against the white of the pelicans. Notice that, in both cases, the background does not add extra detail to the picture, and thus complements, rather than detracts from, the subjects.

The previous two images demonstrated very linear, defined foreground, midground, and background spaces, but not every successful photograph must.

Locust Borer Beetle

This image does not display three clearly defined visual spaces, but I still feel that it is successful. The foreground, midground, and background elements are actually present, if you look for them.

The less in focus elements of the plants make up the foreground, while the subject is again placed in the midground. The shallow depth of field reduces the background to a soft blur, creating a pleasing composition. Notice the difference in focus among the three spaces: the subject should generally be the sharpest part of your image.

However, a photograph doesn't even have to have all three spaces to succeed.

Great Blue Heron
Here, the heron (the subject) makes up the entire foreground, and the out-of-focus foliage makes up the background. There is no midground. This is also an example of the subject being placed in the foreground instead of in the midground. The "two space" composition (a term I just made up) is often employed in portraiture. However, including foreground elements (imagine foliage in front of the heron) can add interest to these sometimes boring types of compositions.

Finally, the foreground, midground, and background spaces to not have to be stratified in the picture.

Rainbow Bridge, Niagara, ON
Here, the foliage in front makes up the foreground, and contributes color and visual interest to the photograph. It overlaps the subject in the midground - the bridge itself. This creates a layered composition that allows the viewer's eye plenty of space to wander through the frame. Finally, the gray sky provides a soft background and sets the mood for the image. Again, note that no new detail is introduced in the background.

So, what do you think? Do you use the concepts of foreground, midground, and background in your photography to build compositions? Discuss below!
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