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Whether we’re talking about photography, landscapes or family pictures, the background and the way it’s used are of considerable importance in the creation of an image. Most of us tend to focus on the main theme of the photo, without considering what the background may represent. The same problem arises for the foreground.

Taking the example mentioned at the start of this tutorial, tourists taking photos in front of the Eiffel Tower are usually positioned in the center of the image so that we can only see the top of the Eiffel Tower. By cropping the image to take into account both the main character in the photo and the background, you get a much more interesting picture. Similarly, the background doesn’t have to be in focus to be attractive.

So, in our example below, the main object appears to be the branch of this cherry blossom tree. But indeed, despite the blurred background due to the depth of the scene, we can clearly see another cherry tree in bloom, and also the ground covered with its petals. We might end up wondering whether the main subject of the image isn’t the blurred cherry tree in the background… Note also the position of the flowers in the foreground, and that of the cherry tree in the background: both are positioned in the image according to the rule of thirds.

Another example, this time concerning the foreground. In this photograph, I opted for great depth of view, so that the tree, which is the main object of this photograph, stands out as clearly as the leaves in the foreground. You’ll also notice in this photo that the principles are used: the frame, the guidelines, and here too the rule of three thirds.

The last two examples illustrate how the right use of foreground and background can add richness to a photograph. Still using the same principle, in the photo below: I placed the camera on a rock by the river, set my zoom to wide-angle and closed at f22 to get a great depth of view. The same photo without the dead leaves in the foreground wouldn’t have the same interest at all.

When it comes to landscape photography, the sky is an almost indispensable background, and you need to think about how to incorporate it into your framing. So, in the photograph of the Pont du Gard below, the entire Roman aqueduct is placed in front of these shades of white and grey. As a result, the bridge stands out against the white shades of the clouds. Note also that the clouds are not overexposed. As in most of my landscape shots, I’ve always placed great value on the sky and clouds in the background.

In fact, many other photographers prefer to shoot a panorama under cloudy skies. The result is much more pleasant than a uniformly blue sky. What’s more, a sky that’s too uniform can create a void in the photo’s composition. Another remark about the sky: it’s a background that, by its very nature, doesn’t remain fixed: it will change with the wind. It can be useful to observe the way clouds move.

Beware of objects that may disrupt the image. Observe the scene before and during photography. Knowing that a crane poorly placed in the landscape can spoil an image. Especially if you don’t notice it until you get home. The photographer won’t always have the widest choice in some situations, but thinking about it while shooting will save him having to go through Photoshop to erase the parasite.

Finally, choosing the background (or foreground), and also the angle of view, is really important in the composition of a photograph. Don’t be afraid to move around and photograph the same object from different positions and angles, to find the combination that suits you best.