Make Sure Your Frame Is Dirty for Depth

There are plenty of ways in which video and photography technique overlap. One of my favorite ways to increase interest is to add things in the foreground, and with video, this can really add a lot of motion to the scene via a parallax type effect, while for photography, it can add depth.

The video technique known as dirtying the frame applies perfectly to photos. I prefer to add dimension to my photos with depth of field and whenever possible, adding something in the foreground is an excellent way to make a photo, which is obviously a two-dimensional, and make it appear more three-dimensional. It can also give the viewer the impression of looking in on a scene, which can lend a great amount of realism to what may otherwise be pretty plain.

Dirtying the Frame - Foreground elements in photography

By composing the rocks and sagebrush in the foreground, I feel it adds depth to the scene and make it more immersive.

pool photo with small foreground element

Even a small element of foreground like this pool ladder can help lend depth to the image and make it look less like an added background, especially for certain shallow depth of field photos.

Of course, it can apply to any type of photo: I use it for my car work a lot as well. It helps if the foreground element makes sense; in this case, a welder in an automotive restoration shop of course makes sense. I added a slight kicker light to the acetylene tank to make it pop off the background and help that added depth.

Foreground element for car photography.

Have great examples of using foreground elements? I'd love to see them in the comments.

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9 Comments

Matthias Kirk's picture

Nutscaping. There I said it.

Alex Wolf's picture

That first shot is fantastic, great job.

Bill Larkin's picture

Thanks so much.

George Popescu's picture

Most intermediate photographers know this, but I guess it's good to know for beginners.

Bill Larkin's picture

Yes, we have readers of all skill levels. From the first week of having a camera to working professionals. This is clearly most helpful for the newer folks.

Carlos Teixeira's picture

Looking at your photo examples, you mean near/middle/far that is usually associated with Wide-angle lens, that's been used for ages?
And in your second photo, the railing is more of a distraction than a point of interest, it's too in focus and competes, for the viewer's attention, against your model. I believe the idea in the video is to place a barely recognisable (out of focus) item in frame that helps frame and/or contextualise your scene, but doesn't steal the scene, I think your first shot shows this well.
I don't think all your examples translate what was in the video, that in itself has a lots of problems, but that isn't relevant to this post anyway. There's something interesting to be learned in all this, but I'm not sure this was done the best way.

Juan Pena's picture

On no.2 theres an object to the right of her breast that makes it seem like her breast is bigger that what it is..

William Faucher's picture

Would this sort of fall under the category of subframing to a certain extent? I like the first shot a LOT, but I really dislike the pool ladder, it kind of makes it feel more like a snapshot and not a well-composed image. I dont feel it adds depth because it's not out of focus enough. If it were closer to the lens, it would help. Same with the workbench in the car scene. I feel like it would help a lot to move that out of the way. It's more of a distraction than adding depth, but that is just my two cents.

Great work sir, I love the grading on all of these. Well done!