An important aspect of landscape photography is the concept of Foreground>Midground>Background as a compositional guideline. Each plane should be treated with equal regard. This concept is often imitated, yet photographers still struggle using it. Sometimes it’s the aesthetic that gets in the way and sometimes it’s the technical aspect. Regardless of the reason, the phenomenon got me thinking. If it works for a landscape, why not try it on scenes of a less grand scale. For that matter, why not incorporate it when making images of any subject? Evidenced time and time again, regardless of the size of the subject, it worked.
Create The Composition: Landscapes are one of the most frequently shot subjects in nature photography. Yet most compositions are created with a camera mounted to a fully extended, upright tripod. While I applaud the fact a tripod is used, I question if it’s being used to its fullest diversity. Utilizing the foreground>midground>background technique more often than not requires that the photographer lowers the tripod so he or she can be very close to the element that creates the strong foreground. I refer to this as “in your face” photography in that a wide-angle lens is within a few feet of the foreground item. This exaggerates its size and makes it appear much larger than in reality. The next layer, the midground, should be tied into the composition and connect both the foreground and background.
Whether a photographer creates a grand landscape or a scene that takes on less space, the same principles stand. The foreground should be prominent, the midground should connect to the fore and background and a key part of the composition should be found in the background. At times, dramatic light helps create the effect. Should this happen, take full advantage. Passing clouds create shadows. These dark areas constantly change position in the scene. Wait for times when the most prominent element is illuminated and the background goes into shade. The part that’s lit takes on the greatest importance and the darker areas become secondary. The eye always goes to the brightest parts of a photo before they journey to the dark sections. Use light to your advantage to emphasize the fore>mid>background concept.
Technical End: Note that in each image, my tripod was low and the wide or semi wide-angle lens was close to the foreground element. With this in mind, in order to get all planes in focus, it’s essential to maximize depth of field. Use an aperture of ƒ/16 or smaller, mount the camera to a tripod, and use a cable release to prevent camera movement. Use the hyper focal distance, which essentially has you focus one third into the frame to maximize depth of field. What you want to attain is everything that’s one third in front of the focus point be sharp and everything that’s two thirds in back of it be sharp. The tripod is necessary in that corresponding shutter speeds will be too slow to get a crisp image if the camera is handheld. So regardless of the subject matter you photograph, look for situations where foreground>midground>background planes of focus can be incorporated and use the above techniques to create them.
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