Out of Focus Foreground Framing

Out of Focus Foreground Framing

This is one of my favorite compositional techniques: it is something I do a lot. I think it’s becoming a signature part of my style. I didn’t realize this until a photographer friend showed me a photo he had taken (utilizing this technique) and showed it to me saying it was his ‘Jacinda shot’ or something like that. When shooting, I often try to find something in the foreground which I can throw out of focus to frame the subject. It is a really simple way to add depth and creativity to the photograph, as well as helping give the main subject more emphasis.

Here are some examples:

All you have to do is find something you can shoot behind. Be sure to use a wide aperture for this technique, to throw the foreground out of focus as much as possible. This image uses an aperture of f2.2. In this wedding, I used the groom and the flower bouquet to frame the bride’s face.

jacindaphotographyooe1.jpeg

This next one is from a birthday party and uses the streamers in the room to frame the subject:

birthdayjacindaphotography5.jpeg

If there are two people sitting or standing close to each other, try shooting ‘through’ them.

birthdayjacindaphotography6.jpeg

When things get in the way: use them to your advantage. This shot is taken from a birthday party, where someone was trying to get in the way of my photo by waving a pink hat around. The result: one of my favorite images from the event.

jacindaphotographycouple3.jpeg

The addition of this balloon not only frames the faces, but helps show the nature of the event.

birthdayjacindaphotography7.jpeg

Use other faces:

nepaljacindaphotography1.jpeg

I love long grass in photos! Long grass looks pretty when you throw it out of focus!

portraitjacindaphotography1.jpeg

Use a wall. Just position your camera up against a wall to get some of that wall in the foreground out of focus!

couplejacindaphotography.jpeg

Set the camera close to the ground, and the out of focus ground in the foreground will add that extra depth to your photograph!

selfjacindaphotography1.jpeg

Anyway, I hope that was helpful!

Jacinda Setiawan is the photographer of of Jacinda Photography. She is based in Palmerston North, New Zealand, and specializes in weddings, portraits, and events. 

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Some Older Comments

  • Mike Siesel August 22, 2011 05:58 pm

    I have a film shot of my dad that everyone loves. We'd had chili for lunch and still at the table when I started playing with my Ftb. Back then saltines came in a tall metal tin and I focused on the tin, and then through the viewfinder I noticed my dad watching me. The tin was just to his right and about 8 -10 inches forward. I just recentered the view port and took the shot.

    The tin is in sharp focus, my dad in soft focus. Perhaps my best portrait, certainly my favorite, and I was still a rookie.

  • Keely August 19, 2011 04:00 am

    I love the one with the colorful umbrella...just sayin'...

  • eric August 17, 2011 03:21 am

    I love the idea of using the foreground blurred (or Front Bokeh) but it has the limits. But i do not agree with the balloon on the picture otherwise it is a very good article. I use this technique also sometimes in events such as parties.

  • Russ August 13, 2011 09:36 pm

    I agree with Hoop.
    I think the photo with the balloon should have been deleted from the camera immediately .

  • Judith Howcroft August 13, 2011 08:49 pm

    Photos like that I try to avoid. With the bride I would crop and repair or clone the white blur out of the image. I must be missing something? Good background bokeh is one thing but I see this blurred foreground as poor exposure for what might have been good photos. Just my opinion.

  • Almost_Gets August 13, 2011 12:41 pm

    I love this style of photography.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/almost_gets/4231923448/sizes/z/in/photostream/

    EXIF:
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    Exposure 0.033 sec (1/30)
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  • Shutterbug August 13, 2011 01:23 am

    Nice photos. But it would also be helpful if you included a bit more info, i.e which lens you used, the settings, etc...

  • SK August 12, 2011 11:35 pm

    Love the techinique!!! I have tried it successfully on weddings when there are a lot of people around.

  • john August 12, 2011 09:41 pm

    i like the idea...very interesting

  • HOOP August 12, 2011 09:27 pm

    It is a widely known photographic compositional tenent that out of focus foregrounds are one of the worst ways to photograph. It is seen as very amateurish as if the photographer didn't know what they were doing. As a photo instructor, I can tell you that this technique will not catch on with my students because it creates some of the worst images around. Also using any type of "framing device" is compositionally old hat. This technique was over used in the late 1800s, early 1900s and was a Kodak truism for decades but it has seriously outlived its usage. If you can't make an image without an imposed frame telling your viewers where the actual photograph is located (inside your imposed "frame") then you are seriously in need a good photographic composition course.

  • gary August 12, 2011 09:21 pm

    thanks for the great article jacinda! this is a technique that i often use when photographing flora:-)

  • D maat davey August 12, 2011 08:54 pm

    I just been looking at the photos out of focus and thought they was awful all of them how can anyone say they are lovely. if I had done a wedding with photos like that I dont think I would be asked again..Dorothy.

  • Andy Lim August 12, 2011 11:57 am

    I use this technique for wedding receptions, when sometimes the foreground elements just present themselves as opportunities when you don't have a clear shot of the subject. These examples are entirely shot with an on-camera speedlight:

    http://www.andylim.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/26.jpg (full set at http://www.andylim.com/blog/trevor-judith-wedding)

    http://www.andylim.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/32.jpg (full set at http://www.andylim.com/blog/shannon-premela-wedding)

  • J. R. Weems August 12, 2011 11:06 am

    I seem to do this a lot, but never considered it might have a name. Nice examples.

  • rio h. August 12, 2011 08:37 am

    I like the concept too, but I agree with Ion's comment.. if it's not composed right, it just becomes an obscuring object. I did an accidental shot like it, I captured my baby playing on the other side of her easel. I caught her on the open end, she thought I was playing with her so she was all smiles. And I learned that the easel also made for a great softbox. The shot came out nice, in my opinion =D

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/panfocusstudios/5440986482/in/set-72157627019899415

  • Kevin August 12, 2011 05:31 am

    It would've been a great dps lesson if the author actually told you how to accomplish the result rather than just bragging about his exposures. There is a little more too it than "All you have to do is find something you can shoot behind. Be sure to use a wide aperture for this technique, to throw the foreground out of focus as much as possible. "

  • Jamie Dennis August 12, 2011 04:18 am

    How would you set this up indoors with a low(er) light situation? Would the flash not over expose everything in the foreground thus detracting from the focus of the shot???

    I know off camera lights would solve this, but if your doing street, environment, etc. shots, using off camera lights would take too long to capture the moment... or be too bulky to use properly.

    Any thoughts???

  • Dicko August 12, 2011 04:17 am

    I have been using this technique for more years than I like to think about. Last year while taking a class, the professional photographer instructor told me it was a bad technique because it confused the observer. I still do it!

  • Abhi August 12, 2011 02:15 am

    Great stuff!! thanks 4 sharing

  • Sandrealla August 12, 2011 01:53 am

    I am a newbie and i really wanna learn how to do this. Can someone help me or share with me the techniques on how to do this? Thanks

  • Lee Coppack August 12, 2011 01:13 am

    I like the technique but think the composition works better than others in some of these images.

  • Gregory C. August 11, 2011 07:09 am

    Great technique, one of my favorites to use as it gives a lot of character to any picture.

  • Ardenvis August 10, 2011 10:36 pm

    Great post. I recently take this shot :)

  • Lenita August 10, 2011 12:45 pm

    Thanks for passing on this technique. I love the long grass photos and definitely the bridge photo close to the ground.

  • Bekah August 10, 2011 02:55 am

    I LOVE this technique...wish I thought to do it more.

  • Lena August 10, 2011 02:55 am

    Perfect timing on this post! I recently just started to use this technique myself, and it brings such life to the photo. I used to discard pictures like this. :( Sadly, discarding means I no longer have them in most cases.

  • Dr. J August 10, 2011 02:14 am

    I think this can be a great technique, but should be used sparingly, and should generally be reserved for when the true (in-focus) subject is very strong, and the out-of-focus part is relatively weak and bland. That is to say: the out-of-focus part should not have elements like lots of colors or potentially interesting shape or contrast that compete with the subject for attention. Otherwise, I think it gives the viewer too much work to do, trying to resolve the image...and that's OK every now and then, but I wouldn't have more than 1 or 2 per album. Like any other technique or effect, it's all too easy to overdo it.

  • cheryl August 10, 2011 01:29 am

    THANK YOU

  • Val August 10, 2011 12:32 am

    Ah! I learned this technique at a Denis Reggie Conclave. Well done. Thank you for sharing.

  • Dewan Demmer August 10, 2011 12:31 am

    I do like the effect that this gives to a photos, almost creating a point of reference. I looked through the picture I have and noticed that I dont do it very often, although I know I do try to create the effect, since I really enjoy the product from both sides of the camera.
    Here is one of the "Jacinda" style shots. :P
    http://dsdphotography.co.za/autumn-bloom/

  • THE aSTIG @ CustomPinoyRides.com August 10, 2011 12:11 am

    Love this technique. I get to employ this on my craft as well.

    I do Car Photography for my website http://CustomPinoyRides.com

    I usually do this with the camera low on the ground, the ground being out of focus, and the car itself being in focus.

  • Maximo Almonte August 9, 2011 11:14 pm

  • Maximo Almonte August 9, 2011 11:13 pm

    Love the technique very much. I always incorporated when i shoot birthdays, baby showers, kids, and everything that i can use to as a way to draw the subject looking at the pictures towards the main point in the photograph.
    I took this shot of the Dj at my sister in law baby shower with my nifty 50mm and i just love how it draws you to the controls, also notice the background how it also came out of focus.

  • Fuzzypiggy August 9, 2011 10:24 pm

    Sometimes you find yourself scratching your head for a foreground object to give depth, this is a great idea when you may otherwise lose an opportunity for a shot.

  • Teson agnes August 9, 2011 09:44 pm

    Very inspirational for me also,I like it.Upper pictures are great-Have a story for me.Nice

  • Andy Lim August 9, 2011 07:04 pm

    This is a useful technique in available light... though tougher (not impossible though) to pull off at wedding receptions if you're using the on-camera speedlight.

  • Mridula August 9, 2011 04:18 pm

    I did it only once and that too was an accident but I loved the result. Will now try to do it deliberately. Got the yellow smudge because of an out of focus marigold flower.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2010/10/a-butterfly-on-a-marigold.html

  • dushki August 9, 2011 04:08 pm

    Very inspirational for me, thank you, I like it.

  • Ranbir Singh August 9, 2011 03:20 pm

    one of mine

  • Ranbir Singh August 9, 2011 03:15 pm

    I too learnt this technique by chance . Love it.
    The pictures submitted by you are excellent .
    here is one of mine :

  • Matias August 9, 2011 02:27 pm

    Wonderful, so dream-like photos!

  • Drew August 9, 2011 02:23 pm

    So simple but really clever too... I gotta try this!

  • Mike T August 9, 2011 01:33 pm

    Out of focus framing is something I tend to forget about. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Mei Teng August 9, 2011 10:30 am

    I like the "long grass" portraits. Gives a nice depth to the images.

  • Lon August 9, 2011 08:44 am

    I like the idea, and can appreciate out of focus forground elements for "framing" but to me I find that in most of the examples it is "obscurring" the subject... note: I realize that the actual subjects in those aren't really obscurred, just that the framing itself is quite heavy and irregular. If it were more subtle like the ones in the link scottc provided I find them more personally pleasing.

  • bexjarratt August 9, 2011 08:22 am

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/10347931@N04/5993071469/' title='Ricky' url='http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6135/5993071469_85501955af.jpg'] Photo didn't attach then.

  • bexjarratt August 9, 2011 08:21 am

    I photographed my cat Ricky with the weeds growing through the patio joints as out of focus framing.

  • scottc August 9, 2011 08:20 am

    I like the technique, and the accompanying photos are great representations. I've heard some refer to this as "front bokeh", not very popular but this is different in terms of framing.

    I didn't realize how many times I've tried this until I poked thru some photos, here's a few:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/sets/72157627388595786/

  • Erik Kerstenbeck August 9, 2011 07:06 am

    Hi

    I like this concept a lot - I will have to keep my eye open for just such opportunities! For this picture, however, where horses are approaching the starting gate, I looked at both out of focus and in focu foreground and the out of focus horse provided a much more interesting shot!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/and-the-horses-are-approaching-the-gate/

  • Bastien August 9, 2011 06:49 am

    I use this technique a lot, I think it gives the picture more warmth and puts it in a context. It's also widely used in movies and TV shows.