03 January 2007

Backgrounds and foregrounds

Hello to all you new readers who have started following my blog since my Christmas letter went out!

I'm back from my trip to New England, where there was no white Christmas waiting for me (Denver stole all the snow). I saw this scene on a walk along the road where I grew up. These "POSTED" signs (the small print essentially says "no trespassing; violators will be prosecuted") are common in New England private forests. We don't see them out West. Maybe it's because there's not much privately owned woodland out here, or maybe it's that the major land owners out here don't mind having strangers take a stroll through their property. What strikes me about this photo is the stark contrast between the hazy background -- a somewhat enticing path into the mysterious woods on an overcast day -- and the sharply-defined foreground -- in which every element (the fence, the sign, and the tangle of virtually impenetrable brambles) reinforces the message: "None shall pass!"

This is an appropriate time to make the comment that a good photograph should have something interesting in the foreground, even if it is primarily a photo about something off in the distance. Many a boring photo has been made of a lovely mountain or distant sunset because of neglecting this aesthetic guideline. The clichéd foreground "frame" around a photo's subject (a couple of dangling branches from a tree nearby) can sometimes do the trick, although it has been so overdone that it does often look hackneyed.

Do you see anything else in this photo that you like, and can you explain why you like it? Hint -- maybe something I've been commenting about before on this blog?


Sørina Higgins said...

rule of threes!

Rosie Perera said...

Right you are, Admonit! Good eye. There's a pleasing balance in this photo: the patch of green branches in the upper left balances the fence in the lower right, and the photo is almost perfectly divided into thirds both along horizontal lines (sky, trees, ground) and vertical (the big tree and the tree with the sign). Not in too stilted or formal a way, but naturally.

One can obviously get carried away with rules of this and that, and most aesthetic rules are made to be broken once you understand them (poetic license and all that), as long as you know why you are breaking them. Some remarkably amazing photos do not use the rule of thirds at all. For more on this, see "Creativity and the Rule of Thirds" by Northwest photographer Jim Altengarten.


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