Balancing the foreground and the background

June 06, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Having a well-balanced image is a vital part of good compositions. When thinking about balance we often think only of balancing laterally (horizontally), left versus right. Good balance though also looks at the balance of the image front versus back. It is one thing to have an object on the right balance out an object on the left. But your image will still not be balanced if your foreground or background weighs considerably more than the other.

In this Yosemite scene, El Capitan has a lot of visual weight. To bring balance to this image we need to have something strong in the foreground. I deliberately walked around looking at options and ultimately decided on the river grasses. In this case, the mountain is mostly in the center of the image from left to right. So I place the tufts of river grasses there too. The rule of thirds (vertical lines) is ignored. I just want to balance the scene.

          Here are a few tips to help you deal with foreground-background balance:

  • You can regulate the visual weight of the foreground object by moving closer to it or further away from it. The closer you are to the foreground element the more it weighs.

  • You can also regulate the visual weight of the foreground object by using brightness to give more or to lessen its prominence. In this case, the foreground was in deep shade which rendered the tufts of river grasses very dark which lessened their prominence which lessens their visual weight. I brightened them considerably in post-processing. Yet, they need to look natural; people should generally not be able to notice what we did in post-processing without seeing the file we started out with.

  • Ultra-wide-angle lenses distort objects. The closer an ultra-wide-angle lens is to something the more it distorts the object by enlarging it in relation to the background. By using an ultra-wide-angle lens and going really close to foreground objects you can make small objects look big in relation to the background. You can use this technique to "enlarge" your foreground object in relation to the background and thereby balancing the foreground with the background at will.

  • Arrive well before go time. It is too late to search for and find foreground interest when the light is at its most beautiful and disappearing in a minute or two. Use your early arrival to scout for foreground elements to use. Plan and get a few compositions ready so that when go time comes you are ready.

          As photographers, we can get overwhelmed by the beautiful scene and light in front of us that we just want to capture it quickly. Stop and think about your composition and the balance of the image.


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