Composition: Subjects, Foregrounds and Backgrounds

John Murphy received an A Grade Honour for his photo entitled ‘Depressed’. The judge was looking for images that conveyed the emotion and mood of loneliness, not just someone/something being alone.

John Murphy received an A Grade Honour for his photo entitled ‘Depressed’. The judge was looking for images that conveyed the emotion and mood of loneliness, not just someone/something being alone.

By Julie Hartwig, Tin Can Bay Camera Club

Photography is telling stories with pictures. However, the arrangement of the elements within the pictures that tell those stories determines how well a story is told and how viewers interpret the story. One of the biggest obstacles to effective photographic story-telling is poor composition.

The composition of a photograph is comprised of three elements:

  • Subjects – also known as “points of interest” or “focal points”
  • Foregrounds
  • Backgrounds

Subjects are vitally important to photography because they are the reason for taking a photo in the first place, and through them, the viewer interprets and understands what the story is about.

Subjects are as numerous as subject matter itself; anything can become a subject if composed and photographed in the right way.

Photographs can have multiple subjects. One must be the primary subject, with the others falling into a secondary, supporting role to assist with the story telling.

It is this arrangement of subjects – of how the placement of subjects leads the eye into and around a photograph – that is one of the critical elements of composition.

Foregrounds and backgrounds are “secondary” elements. Consider them the “canvas” upon which the photo subject tells the story.

Foreground is the area between the camera and the primary subject. Depending on the scene and the subject, the foreground can be blurred or in sharp focus. However, not every photograph will have a visible foreground.

This is often the case with photographs taken with telephoto focal lengths. Image perspective is compressed so that it appears there is only the subject set against the background.

Background is the area behind the subject, extending into the far distance. Like foregrounds, not every photograph will have a visible background. The content of backgrounds is important to the overall clarity of a photograph because without being aware of it, the eye will examine this area while viewing a photograph.

More composition tips next month!

The Tin Can Bay Camera Club’s next meeting: October 16, 7pm at TCB Library. For more information about club activities and to view members’ images, visit tincanbaycameraclub.wix.com/tcb-camera-club.