The Foreground and Background Relationship in Photography

Two people walking by the Neva River with the historical city of St. Petersburg, Russia behindCanon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 24-105mm f4 L series lens

This is a really straightforward photo. I made it, primarily, as a teaching aid to help explain the importance of the relationship between foreground and background in our photos. Here are some quick examples:

Color Connects

Notice the fact that the people in the foreground are wearing colors similar to those in the background buildings and sky. Its the colors, more than the subjects, that connect the foreground and background in this photo.

Story Telling

People add a narrative to the scene and, as a consequence, help us tell a story.

Can I suggest that all stories are, ultimately, about people. And that includes stories about dolphins, forests, architecture, religion and micro organisms.


People add a sense of scale and literally humanize an image. I'd go further and say that, when the people appear to be a couple, the viewer is likely to connect with them and the location in an emotive manner.

Imagine they're holding hands and its sunset. If you're thinking of a holiday to the location depicted you might, subconsciously, begin to see you and your partner in that same place, at the same time of day sharing just such a moment. Wow! Photography really is a powerful form of communication.

Wait, There's More

In case you were wondering I processed this photo to give it the look of an old, peel away, polaroid photo from days gone by. One of my first professional jobs, way back in the very early 80's, was to photograph a couple of stars from an Australian TV series called Prisoner. The idea was for fans to line up next to one or both of the stars, have their pic made and walk away, photo in hand, about 90 seconds later. The camera used, if memory serves me right, was the Polaroid 600SE and the film Polaroid Type 108 color. You got 10 sheets per pack and, for its time, it was expensive. As was the camera, which I bought with two interchangable lenses.

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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru