Foreground, Middleground, Background

When you photograph scenics, and even wildlife images, it’s important to have a strong foreground, middleground and background to add a sense of depth to the image. For scenics, it’s imperative to have these layers. More so than when you make wildlife images, but if it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander.

The foreground element allows the viewer to enter the picture. The middleground adds a component that holds the viewer’s interest. The first two layers should lead the observer to the background element to complete the image. To have all three elements work in harmony helps improve the photograph.

Foreground, Middleground, Background

Foreground In Landscapes

Traditional landscape photographers strive to have every layer of their photos fall into sharp focus. This necessitates the use of wide angles, stopped-down apertures, hyperfocal distance focusing and a tripod. The eye is drawn to what’s sharp in an image. Since every layer in a scenic is important, it’s essential that it’s sharp throughout all planes. Compositionally, the foreground should include a key element that magnetizes the viewer and sucks them into the photo. For scenics, that could be a field of flowers, an array of intriguing rocks, a cascade of water and a multitude of other options. Let the environment dictate what element you choose.

Foreground, Middleground, Background

Middleground In Landscapes

The middleground should act as a landing and takeoff strip that allows the viewer to transition from the center of the image and be brought to the elements in the rear. There should be harmony between all three layers. There should also be balance between the layers so the transition is smooth. The environment in which the photo is made and the subjects that make up the composition should dictate which layer winds up having the most impact. Regardless of which one dominates, be sure all three are in accord and in proportion to each other.

Foreground, Middleground, Background

Background In Landscapes

The background should help unify and tie together the other two layers. The top area of the background should contain elements that arrest the viewer from wanting to look outside the image. That can be accomplished by darkening the top or by including elements that grasp the looker on so intently, he or she has no desire to let their eye wander out of the frame. As a matter of fact, a great background leads the spectator back to the middleground so the photo is more deeply analyzed.


Wildlife images can stand on their own, but because I discuss landscapes above and I love to help photographers get to the next level in their image making, I’m adding the entire wildlife section below as a bonus to this week’s Tip of the Week.

Foreground, Middleground, Background

Foreground In Wildlife

There are a number of aspects of wildlife photography. One aspect that we all want to capture great images of is the headshot. With this in mind, it’s tough to apply the F/M/B concept to it. One aspect of wildlife photography I’ve grown to love over the years is what I call environmental portraiture. This is where the animal is depicted in its habitat. Here’s where the F/M/B approach works well. The image of the lioness walking the road was made in early light in the Ngorongoro Crater. The sweeping S curve of the road allows the viewer to enter and the eye is brought to the lioness. The continuation of the road brings the eye back to the primary tree. Because its shape mimics the mountains in the background, a strong connection is made between the middle and background.

Foreground, Middleground, Background

Middleground In Wildlife

For the photo of the cheetah and wildebeest, I used a technique called selective focus. The only plane that’s sharp is where I want the viewer’s eye to rest but also have him or her traverse the rest of the image. Because the foreground cheetah is tack sharp and the middleground wildebeests fall somewhat out of focus, it implies they’re secondary but form a strong middleground. The eye then travels up to the sky, but because it’s the softest portion of the photo, it immediately transitions back to the wildebeests and then in turn to the cheetah in the foreground.

Foreground, Middleground, Background

Background In Wildlife

With environmental portraiture, what often constitutes the middleground is the main subject. In the photo of the wildebeests crossing the Mara River, since they’re lit the brightest, they do create a strong middleground. But because the background tells the viewer from where the wildebeests came, the background is very strong in the photo.

As is the case in this photo, the background completes the story that tells what’s happening. The small yellow-billed stork that’s the primary foreground subject doesn’t need to be any bigger since it’s brightly lit and is a different species. Therefore, even though it’s tiny, it creates a bold foreground.

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