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Thread: Effective use of foreground elements

  1. #1
    terrib's Avatar
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    Updated Images-Effective use of foreground elements

    I posted a few other photos HERE of our first snow on Pike's Peak and some nice fall color. But I really wanted to include the fence as a foreground element. I do not feel like I succeeded and so I was wondering, not only in this particular instance, but in general how you effectively utilize foreground elements.

    In #1, I believe the fence is too dominant and the things I think I should try in order to improve are:
    * raise the tripod to add some space between the fence and the trees
    * go back in the evening to see if there might be some side light on the fence to add texture

    I cannot move back very far without introducing a road into the composition.

    In #2, my thinking is that this just wasn't the spot to try to create a leading line with the fence. It just leads me out of the frame and away from the fall color and mountain. Trying to get this type of shot of the fence totally lost the main subjects. But I did like the texture of the fence.

    Am I on the right track? Totally off base?

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    Last edited by terrib; 15th September 2012 at 09:04 PM.

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    Re: Effective use of foreground elements

    Terri - Your thinking mirrors exactly what I think my thinking would be ... if you see what I mean. I feel you are coming up with all the answers yourself, which is great (or put it another way, you are coming up with the same answers that I would be coming up with.

    On the second one, I think we could say that the mountains and the sky take away from what could be brilliant image of a fence with Aspens in the background. And the lesson to take from that, I think, is to really nail the question, "What is this image about?" as you are lining it up and composing it. The lighting on the fence is wonderful.

    On the first one, I agree the fence is far too dominant. We have this glorious countryside with these great big bits of wood slapped across the front of it. Without being at the location, we can't really think what the shot could be, but your idea about reducing the dominance of the fence by getting up higher is certainly one to look at. With the idea of returning at a different time of day to get a better light on the fence, the thing you have to remember is that you are then going to have very different light on the tress and the mountains, and is that going to work.

    One other option to consider - You say you can't move back because you'll introduce a road into it. But could you move back, use a longer focal length (you've got a good range at your disposal) to get some compression into the scene and still exclude the road? You wouldn't such a wide angle of view, but you'd bring the trees and the mountains up a to a position of some more dominance.

    Finally - one more thought. I've just gone back to the second one, because I love that fence. How about a crop that either:
    a) cuts it just to the left of that large tree at the right of the row of aspens, to give a 1:1 (square) image or,
    b) crop just at the left edge of that gravel pathway to exclude it and give you something close to a 5:4 ratio image.

    You might feel either of those cuts out distraction and throws attention more onto the fence, the aspens and the mountains in a more balanced way. What either crop does, I think is stops the fence becoming a line that takes you down and out of the image. It makes the fence more of 'joined-up' part of the overall image. Just a thought.

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Effective use of foreground elements

    Terri

    Another thing you might want to consider in terms of framing up images in the field are some cardboard cutouts that allow you to see what different aspect ratios will do for the image. So, you are effectively cropping the image in your head before you capture it.

    Just to give you an idea, the picture below is of the 4 that I carry about in my bag (with my Blackberry included to show scale). With these, your elbow acts as the zoom. You can see exactly what you want to get in one or other of your preferred formats and then just line up the shot in the camera so that you'll be able to crop for that shot. As you can see, I have one for each of my preferred formats. The one without any writing on it is the 1:1 (square) format

    What it allows you to do is then frame the shot in camera. And because you have composed it beforehand, you can shoot it with 3 of the edges just as you're going to want them in the finished image. Then the only crop you need to make is on one edge. For example, I shoot for 1:1 (square) images. For this, I have the camera in portrait format most of the time. So, what is then the bottom and two sides of what I see in the viewfinder are the bottom and sides of my finished image. Then all I have to do is crop the top to the pre-decided point.

    High-tech in action!

    Effective use of foreground elements

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    Re: Effective use of foreground elements

    Donald, than you so much for the time you've taken with your responses. Both are very helpful. The good thing about this scene is it is only a couple of miles from my house so I have a chance to go back multiple times to try other things. I love the idea of your cardboard frames. That a great way to better visualize options.

    Here are crops from your suggestions. I really like the 5:4 crop but I also think I'll go back and try again thinking of the fence as subject instead of foreground. I couldn't really get a clear shot of the mountain from there anyway, so having it as the subject in that shot really didn't make sense.

    Effective use of foreground elements

    Effective use of foreground elements

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    Re: Effective use of foreground elements

    Wow, I'm actually more interested in the fensce than the mountain. It has some really cool angles. The way the shadows and highlights are working at this angle is very cool and presents lots of interesting ideas to me.

    Nice composition! Thanks for posting.

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    Re: Effective use of foreground elements

    Good idea Mackenzie! I usually just do the thumb and forefinger thing with both hands.

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    Re: Effective use of foreground elements

    Terri,

    I just love your threads about conceptual approaches to photography. You always ask all the right questions and, as Donald mentioned, you usually come up with great answers on your own. I dread the day that you are so proficient that your questions pertain only to the details and fine nuances of an image.

    Regarding image #2: You explained that you wanted the subject to be the colorful trees and that the purpose of the fence was to provide a leading line. Donald seemed to explain that the fence should be the subject (though he didn't use those exact words). So, the decision needs to be made whether the fence is to be a leading line (a secondary part of the subject) or the subject.

    You also mentioned that the leading line of the fence merely leads the eye out of the frame. Exactly right in my opinion. Leading lines are effective when they lead the viewer's eye toward the subject, not away from it.

    For me, the entire crux of the matter regarding this scene is very simple: what do you want the subject to be? You mentioned that the fence in the first image is overly prominent. I would argue (and I gather that Donald might agree) that it's not prominent enough. But that's only if you're willing to make the fence the subject. You could produce a lot of drama if you shot from a somewhat low angle, used a wide angle focal length and placed the camera close to the fence. You could frame the glorious colors in the trees for some background interest. (Yes, it's okay if the trees aren't the subject.) Hopefully you'll like the example shown below, especially considering that I don't have any other images of a fence as the subject.

    Effective use of foreground elements
    Last edited by Mike Buckley; 14th September 2012 at 11:02 PM.

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    Re: Effective use of foreground elements

    Mike, I do like your photograph... and your fence. And I appreciate your comments.

    I guess now I have two totally different approaches to this scene. The first being where my subject is the trees with mountain in the background and the fence in the foreground. The second being where the fence is the subject. I did go back yesterday afternoon (before seeing Mike's post) and tried some of Donald's suggestions and I may have gotten some decent shots of my first objective which I'll post later today. I did not, however, succeed in the "fence as subject" shots. My failure may lead to another discussion on focal length choices which I need to understand better. But that's another thread, if I ever figure out how to articulate the question.

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    Re: Effective use of foreground elements

    I did as Donald suggested and used a longer lens to capture this scene from across the road. The goal was to make the fence a foreground element instead of it being so dominant as in my first attempt. I'm not sure I went as long as Donald was thinking, but I think this is much better.

    The first one is from a standing position across the road using a 60mm focal length. For the other two, I was hanging out the passenger door of my Toyota FJ, standing on the seat, hanging on to the roof rack and trying to see over the roof rack. It's a wonder there's any composition at all! (The guy working on the utilities nearby probably thought I was nuts because I kept moving my car.) These were at 55mm.

    I'm hoping the fall color will hold out for another snow on the peak so I can try with some side light on the fence. The snow was melting fast from the day before.

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Effective use of foreground elements

    I'd agree that it would be good if you could get a better light on the fence, but at least you now seem to have a composition that will give a good image, if the weather and the lighting will co-operate.

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    Re: Effective use of foreground elements

    Considering the subordinate role of the fence in these compositions, I won't be surprised to learn that other light on it might make it too predominant. I really like the first image, though I would get rid of the lone cloud.

    Did you by any chance apply the post-processing ideas for the snow and mountains to these images that I suggested for the others? The reason I ask is that these look great. Hopefully it's because you had less haze and better light. If you came about this using post-processing, you did a terrific job.

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    Re: Effective use of foreground elements

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Buckley View Post
    Did you by any chance apply the post-processing ideas for the snow and mountains to these images that I suggested for the others? The reason I ask is that these look great. Hopefully it's because you had less haze and better light. If you came about this using post-processing, you did a terrific job.
    Thanks, Mike. I didn't really do what you suggested, but your ideas pointed out to me the area that needed attention. In Aperture, I have been making adjustments in the Levels panel and then moving to the Curves panel (per some guidance you gave me before). I used to use the Auto adjustment in Levels but have been doing it manually myself lately because the Auto almost always gives me extremes in the highlights and shadows. However, my manual adjustment never seem to get rid of the haze. So today I experimented with starting with the Auto and then adjusting the darkest and brightest back to an acceptable level, but keeping the middle tone adjustments. I don't know if any of this makes sense, but at least for this image this worked much better.

    I just want to say that it's a fairly slow process but your comments seem to guide me a step at a time to get a little further down the road. I can't thank you enough for the continued feedback and encouragement.

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    Re: Effective use of foreground elements

    Quote Originally Posted by terrib View Post
    I experimented with starting with the Auto and then adjusting the darkest and brightest back to an acceptable level, but keeping the middle tone adjustments.
    That's exactly what I used to do. Now I just do it manually, eliminating the step of first using the Auto method.

    In my software and perhaps yours too, the histogram displayed within the Levels tool is a composite rather than an RGB histogram. The tonal range is usually wider when displayed as an RGB histogram than when displayed in the composite histogram. That is one reason that explains why using the Auto Levels often results in extreme black and white points. So, when manually adjusting the Levels tool, I always ignore the composite histogram displayed there. Instead, I monitor the RGB histogram, which is simultaneously displayed elsewhere in my software.

    You mentioned that the manual process doesn't get rid of the haze and I think you were referring to the Levels tool. It's the Curves tool that can minimize the haze when the Levels tool doesn't do the trick.

    I just want to say that it's a fairly slow process
    Perhaps true for most people and definitely for me. Not so for you; I'm amazed at how quickly you're assimilating all this stuff.
    Last edited by Mike Buckley; 16th September 2012 at 12:32 PM.

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