Photography with depth: including the foreground in your pictures

  • framing your subjects through objects photography tutorial by Lissa Chandler

Photography with depth: including the foreground in your pictures

Stale.

It’s kind of a biting word isn’t it? To say that something is stale?

It’s true sometimes though! Sometimes bread goes stale. Sometimes writing goes stale. Sometimes relationships go stale. And sometimes? Our photography goes stale, too.

framing your subjects through objects photography tutorial by Lissa Chandler

As photographers, we look at so many images, made both by ourselves and by our peers. Sometimes we study these images for hours and other times we just see them in passing, but the image are always there. Because of this, sometimes our own photography starts to feel a little redundant and, when you’ve photographed something dozens of times – whether it’s your children playing before nap time or a bride getting ready on her wedding day – it’s easy to run out of ideas.

About a year ago, I started to feel this way pretty heavily. I felt like all of my photographs looked the same.

Then, one afternoon, I sat down to photograph my children playing on the porch and, by chance, my oldest ran inside and started playing on the other side of the glass door. I turned to take a photograph of him through the glass (which, at the time, seemed like the silliest thing to do) and I LOVED the photograph.

Truthfully, it was bad. It took me several more times shooting through glass to capture the moment right but that was the moment I realized that, no matter what, I would never run out of ideas because there is always something to shoot through. Always.

framing your subjects through objects photography tutorial by Lissa Chandler

Look around yourself at a photo shoot – what is there around you to shoot through? At sessions, I always carry a few shards of glass and a prism in my bag. But! I don’t usually use them. Instead, I use elements from the session.

If I am shooting in a place with lots of leaves, like an overgrown fence or even a park with lots of bushes, I will position myself to shoot through the leaves. If there are flowers or leaves around me during a session, I will shoot through those, too. Sometimes, I keep things natural and shoot through actual branches and other times I pick them off the ground – or even pluck them off if there is nothing on the ground to pick up.

Now, think about what’s around you when you are photographing your everyday life. Have your children dumped all of their toys in their living room? Get down on your belly and photograph them through the toys; the bokeh made by the toys will be incredible.

Are you looking at Christmas lights with your family? Lean against the lights and photograph your family with the lights in front, the result will be dazzling. Are you taking a walk with your children? Walk a few steps ahead of them, crouch down, and photograph through the leaves of the nearest tree, you won’t regret it.

framing your subjects through objects photography tutorial by Lissa Chandler

framing your subjects through objects photography tutorial by Lissa Chandler

Leaves. Flowers. Glass. These things are just the start of objects you can shoot through. If you are feeling uninspired, sometimes bringing something as simple as a small strip of lace can completely change the outcome of your final photograph.

Look around your environment, there is always something to shoot through. And the best part? Even if you often shoot in the same location, there is always something new.

Flowers bloom at different times of year. Leaves change every fall. Seasonal changes bring new perspectives everywhere – why not embrace this and add an extra element to your photographs?

For me, when I see a photograph where the photographer has obviously shot through an object, I feel a heightened sense of emotion and connection to the photograph because the images often seem so personal.

While this is not a technique that should be used on every photograph (it would definitely lose its effect if it was used constantly), there are so many options for framing, visual interest, and awareness when, as an artist, we bring an unexpected element into our photographs.

For example, here are two photographs taken within thirty seconds of one another. The left image is not a bad image. It’s pretty, a pretty photograph of a pretty girl sitting in a pretty end-of-summer woods. But! When I moved half an inch and shot through the grass and branches growing out of the ground, I was able to create the right image!

framing your subjects through objects photography tutorial by Lissa Chandler

framing your subjects through objects photography tutorial by Lissa Chandler

The first image is pretty, but the second image is memorable.

As photographers, we should want to create interesting, memorable images! So! Pick up something near you today and shoot through it.  You’re going to feel (and look!) ridiculous but, in the end, the payoff is one hundred percent worth it.

framing your subjects through objects photography tutorial by Lissa Chandler

About the Author:

Lissa Chandler grew up with a camera in her back pocket. Now that she’s grown, she is a wedding and portrait photographer in Northwest Arkansas (and, let’s be honest, still carries a camera in her back pocket). Lissa is a Canon girl and shoots mainly with a 5d Mark III, lots of prime and tilt-shift lenses, and processes all of her images in Lightroom 5. Lissa specializes in creative, emotive and magical photographs and LOVES photography with her whole heart. Like, big puffy-hearts it with a cherry on top. Visit Lissa Chandler online.
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14 Comments

  1. Kristin Dokoza Feb 13 2014 at 11:59 am - Reply

    I’m a big fan of you, your work and shooting including foreground! 😉 Love the depth it creates and agree it definitely adds a special element to the image. Great tips! Thanks <3

  2. Kristin White Feb 13 2014 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    This is wonderful. I’ve been trying this a lot lately, but you’ve given me some more great ideas!!!

  3. Emilia Feb 13 2014 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Great tips, thank you! 😉

  4. Maureen Petru Feb 13 2014 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    I have just begun experimenting with this … so very timely article for me. Gives me lots to think about. Your work is beautiful and inspiring!

  5. Lissa Feb 13 2014 at 2:37 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the kind words, y’all! I am so glad that the article has helped some of you. Shooting through stuff is SO much fun and I’m excited for y’all to try some new ideas!

  6. Anda Panciuk Feb 13 2014 at 6:36 pm - Reply

    I just finished up a newborn shoot and I surprised myself by shooting the baby “through” its parents’ heads. Sounds funny to write that, but it turned out to be pretty cool.

  7. Kristy Feb 13 2014 at 6:45 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for this Lissa! I can’t wait to play with this idea more. Your work is lovely. <3

  8. Wendy Feb 13 2014 at 8:15 pm - Reply

    I like the term “looking through”. I hadn’t thought of it that way before. That will stick with me.

  9. Mara Feb 13 2014 at 8:34 pm - Reply

    Wonderful tutorial, Lissa! I love your photos!! I can’t wait to try this out.

  10. Adele Humphries Feb 14 2014 at 9:17 am - Reply

    Your work is really beautiful Lissa! Great article!

  11. KatieW Feb 16 2014 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    Love this Lissa! I think a lot about this when I’m doing landscapes but I forget during portraits. Thank you!

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