Facebook Pixel How to Use Foreground Framing to Improve Your Portrait Photography

How to Use Foreground Framing to Improve Your Portrait Photography

Foreground is most often mentioned in the context of landscape photography. Landscape photographers know that including a foreground in their photos helps to create depth by adding a third dimension to the image. However, foreground framing can be equally useful in portrait photography. It can add interest to your portrait, help frame your subject, create intrigue, and add another layer to the story you are telling.

Here are some tips to help you use foreground framing to improve your portrait photography.

use foreground to improve your portraits

100mm lens, ISO 125, f/4.5, 1/320th.

#1: Creating a blurry foreground

Blurry foreground framing creates a lovely, soft frame for your subjects. Shooting through foliage, twigs or flowers is one of my favorite ways to create a blurry foreground.  It is effective for photographing couples, and also for children engrossed in quiet play. In the portrait below, the flowers in the foreground give the illusion that the girls are surrounded by flowers. In fact, there was just a garden bed behind them.

Use foreground to improve your portrait photography

100mm lens, ISO 125, f/4.5, 1/160th.

Create your own foreground

Annoyingly, foliage and flowers don’t always grow where you want them to! 

Let’s say you’ve found a bank of lavender that’s a perfect backdrop for your portrait. You want to include a hint of lavender in your foreground framing to give the illusion that your subject was surrounded by flowers, but there is nothing growing in the precise spot where you plan to shoot.

The solution is to bring the flowers to your camera! Pick a few pieces from an inconspicuous part of the plant, so that you don’t spoil its appearance (if it’s in your client’s yard, get their permission first, or ask them to do it). 

Hold the flowers in front of your lens to create a foreground frame to shoot through without interfering with the subject. If you have a third person at hand, ask them to hold the flowers so that you can leave both hands on the camera to keep it steady. How close you hold the flowers to the lens will depend on what focal length you’re using, the aperture you select (use a large one like f/5.6 or larger), and the effect you want to create.

The closer you hold the foliage to the lens, the blurrier it will be.

use foreground to improve your portrait photography

The closer the foliage is to the lens, the blurrier it will be. 100mm lens, ISO 125, f/4.5, 1/250th.

You can use the same technique indoors using man-made items. Think strings of Christmas lights, chandeliers, strings of beads – anything that can be used as a subtle frame and foreground.

#2: Giving the illusion of secrecy

Foreground framing can help create the illusion of secrecy, giving the viewer the feeling that they are peering into a private world. You can achieve this either by shooting through things, as outlined above, or by finding frames in your surroundings.

Look for strong, structural elements such as buildings, fences or trees, and experiment shooting from different positions. In the photo below, the tree branch in the foreground frames the subject and suggests we are glimpsing a private moment.

use foreground to improve your portrait photography

The tree in the foreground suggests we are peering into a private moment. 85mm lens, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/400th.

use foreground to improve your portrait photography

100mm lens, ISO 250, f/5.0, 1/160th.

The low-hanging branches in the foreground together with the compression of a telephoto lens, frame the mushroom harvesters below and create a feeling of secrecy.

use foreground to improve your portrait photography

100mm lens, ISO 1000, f/6.3, 1/200th.

#3: Adding to the story

In the photos below, the foreground is dominant and plays an important role in storytelling. The first three photos were shot with a 35mm lens. This is a popular lens among lifestyle portrait photographers for its ability to capture wider scenes than traditional portrait lenses.

DPS author, Annie Tao, is a lifestyle photographer who uses low angles, foreground, and negative space brilliantly. You can check out some examples of Annie’s work in her many articles.

The photo below of the little boy on the pier was shot from a low angle. The strong structural lines of the foreground help draw the eye into the subject. The empty bench and gloomy sky add to the sense of isolation, and the vertical post emphasizes the smallness of the boy.

Examples

Here are a few examples that use foreground framing in a portrait well.

use foreground to improve your portrait photography

The dominant foreground helps create a sense of isolation and gives scale. 35mm lens, ISO 100, f/4.5, 1/800th.

use foreground to improve your portrait photography

The 35mm lens is a favorite of lifestyle portrait photographers. 35mm, ISO 1600, f/3.5, 1/80th.

use foreground to improve your portrait photography

The low shooting angle here helps capture the girls’ reflections on the wet sand. 35mm lens, ISO 100, f/9.0, 1/200th.

use foreground to improve your portrait photography

Without the inclusion of the blanket, we would assume the baby in the photo below was crawling on the lawn. The foreground here tells us more about what’s going on in this scene. 85mm lens, ISO 100. f/2.2, 1/400th.

use foreground to improve your portrait photography

A low angle allows you to capture some of the foreground, and get on eye level with little ones. 85mm, ISO 100, f/2.2, 1/160th.

use foreground to improve your portrait photography

The use of similar colors in the foreground and the background give this image a soft feel, while the subject’s expression conveys playfulness. 85mm lens, ISO 200, f/2.5, 1/60th.

The photo below of a yoga instructor was part of a series. The purpose of the photos was not only to show the instructor’s yoga skills but also to give a sense of the beautiful sunlit studio in which she operates. The expanse of floor and shafts of sunlight give a sense of space and tranquility.

use foreground to improve your portrait photography

85mm lens, ISO 500, f/6.3, 1/20th of a second.

Conclusion

When it comes to using foreground in your portrait photography, there are no real rules. The effect you create is whatever you want it to be, and it can really take your portrait photography up a notch. Experiment and have fun! Don’t forget, you can join our dPS Facebook group and share your photos with like-minded people from all over the world.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Karen Quist
Karen Quist

is a writer and photographer, specialising in documentary and branding portraiture. Originally from South Africa, she now lives in Melbourne with her husband, two teenage daughters, a neurotic dog and two spoilt rabbits. When she’s not writing or taking photos, you’ll find her working on her first novel, drinking strong coffee, or finding new ways to avoid doing the laundry. You can visit her website Lens and Pen Group or connect with her on Facebook or Instagram.