Join Natalie Fobes for an in-depth discussion in this video Foreground, background, and in-between, part of The Elements of Effective Photographs.
A common mistake photographers make is creating a flat photo, and what I mean by this is that the image doesn't explore the relationship between the foreground and the background. It doesn't have the depth. So let's analyze this photograph of a kayaker that I did in Alaska. The kayak is on a diagonal-- remember, diagonals are our friends-- and there are repetitive shapes in the mountains, and there is mirroring of the sky and the mountains in the water. So a lot of compositional elements are already in play here.
Now, the foreground subject feels really close to the camera. When looking at the kayak, you can almost have a feeling that you can reach out and touch it. This perspective is created by using a 20-millimeter lens. Wide angles often make you feel like you're part of the scene. This feeling is really enhanced if you are able to use a great depth of field to make everything in focus from the foreground to the horizon. It's funny, because this is really how our brains interpret what we see in this world.
Now, here's another example of using wide-angle lenses and a diagonal line to create a relationship between the foreground and background. You can almost feel the wind that is making the tundra grass move on the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta. Here's an early morning shot that I did in Russia at a reindeer herders camp. Yeah, it was cold. It was really cold. So your eye probably landed on the sun, and traveled to the left through the repetitive shapes of the Yaranga.
The wide angle really adds to the sense of place in this photograph. Now, when creating a foreground-and- background relationship in a composition don't forget about the rule of thirds. This plant is exactly where you would expect it to be if you were following the rule of thirds, and what's more is the diagonals of its leaves lead the eye back into the mountains and throughout the frame. Now, not only can you use this technique with landscapes, but you can use it too with people.
You almost feel like you are riding off into the hills with the ranchers as they check on their cattle. Don't think that you have to shoot only wide angles to get this relationship. You can also use telephotos too, like this shot that I took in Prince William Sound with a 200-millimeter lens, and a great depth of field. And speaking of depth of field, we will cover that next.
The course explores compositional elements that guide a viewer's eye, including the rule of thirds; leading lines, patterns, and curves; and depth of field. Natalie then details the roles of color and light in a photo. She shows how to work with the natural light in a room or outdoor location, and how to enhance it using reflectors, newspapers, a T-shirt, or whatever might be handy. She also shows some simple indoor lighting setups that can replicate the look of natural light.
The course continues with a look at movement and how a photographer can convey a sense of motion by blurring part of the image or freezing a fast-moving subject. Next, Natalie explores the concepts of peak action and the decisive moment—those split seconds that capture the essence or emotion of a subject or scene. The course wraps up with a discussion of the roles of planning and research in creating effective photos.