Figure and Ground

‘What’s really important is to simplify. The work of most photographers would be improved immensely if they could do one thing: get rid of the extraneous. If you strive for simplicity, you are more likely to reach the viewer.’

William Albert Allard, a National Geographic photographer.

An essential skill of framing is to view the subject in relation to its background. This relationship between subject and background is often referred to as ‘figure and ground’. Many photographers stand too far away from the subject. In a desire to include the entire subject, their photographs become busy, unstructured and cluttered with unwanted background detail. This extra detail can distract from the primary subject matter. If a photographer moves closer, or chooses an alternative vantage point from which to take the image, distracting background can be reduced or eliminated. With fewer visual elements to be arranged the photographer has more control over composition. If background detail does not relate to the subject the photographer should consider removing it from the frame. Unless the photograph is to act as a factual record the need to include everything is unnecessary.