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Food For digital Thought: Figure-Ground

Long lens at it's minimum focusing distance/widest aperture.

Long lens at it’s minimum focusing distance/widest aperture.

I teach three classes online with the BPSOP. My Part I and II classes deal with the elements of visual design and composition, and my third class is on the six concepts in the psychology of Gestalt. I also work on these in my “Stretching Your Frame of Mind” workshops I conduct around our planet.

One of the six concepts is called Figure-Ground, and to master it is to take your imagery what I often refer to as “up a notch”.

Figure-Ground refers to the relationship between an object and its surroundings, or background. Do you see the figure in front of you or the background? There are times when it’s easy to pick out the figure, which is the object (the positive space) from the ground, which is everything else (the negative space).

There are also times when it’s difficult to pick out the figure from the ground, so it’s important to keep a balance between the Negative and positive space as well as making the figure a “quick read”. In other words, be sure to make a clear distinction between the figure and the (back) ground.

Dark against light.

Dark against light.

I typically like to have the subject (figure) stand out and be clearly defined. In these situations, I want the ground to support the figure. I can do this controlling my depth of field by using a longer lens with the widest aperture; focusing solely on the subject.

The use of contrast by either placing a dark objects against a lighter background or light objects against a darker background are two ways. I can also separate the figure from the Ground by the use of color and size.

Light against dark.

Light against dark.

If you’ve ever read anything about Henri Cartier-Bresson, you would know that he used Figure-Fround all the time when creating his photographs. In fact, he was a master at it.

Another use of Figure-Ground is to create the feeling of the figure being small and alone. By making the ground the overwhelming part of your composition, this message will come across to the viewer.

The feeling of being small and alone.

The feeling of being small and alone.

An interesting bit of trivia is the intentional modification of the Figure-Ground that comes in the form of Camouflage. This is when we want to blend the figure and the ground together. Strange as it might sound, Grant Wood (as in the famous painting called American Gothic) helped develop the camouflage used during World War I.

Visit my website at: www.joebaraban.com and check out my 2016 workshop schedule at the top of this blog. Come shoot with me sometime. The end of July marks my twenty-eight year at the Maine Media workshops. It’s a wonderful way to immerse yourself for a week and think about nothing but photography. It’s the same week as the Lobster Festival down the road in Rockland, and offers a completely different set of photo ops than the beautiful Maine coastline, amazing lighthouses, and quaint fishing villages. The full description is at the top of this blog.

The Los Angeles Center for photography has invited me to come out and conduct a three day intensive workshop over the August 18th weekend. I’ll be making a presentation of my work on Thursday August 17th and the public is invited. The full description can be see at the top of this blog, with a link to the site. I hope to spend the weekend with all of you.

I have added a new workshop to my 2016 schedule. On September 21st, ten photographers will get together with me at my evening “meet and greet” to begin a fantastic five-day workshop in New York, New York. Check out my description at the top of this blog. Come shoot with me.

Don’t forget to send me a photo and question to: AskJoeB@gmail, and I’ll create a video critique for you.


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