What is Figure Ground Relationship?
Figure Ground Relationship is the relationship of the subject you wish the viewer to focus on and how it relates to the background / foreground. Most people refer to this as a “Silhouette” however it goes much deeper than this. Instead of thinking “This shot works because there’s a silhouette in it”, I would like to push forward the idea that by using FGR we can allow the thought process of “This shot works because we can clearly see the subject’s outline”.
There are of course exceptions to this rule, Chiaroscuro being a key one (example below), where the outline cannot be traced clearly around the entire subject, but it’s clearly been shot or composed that way on purpose rather than an oversight.
I will certainly add that I could have done a better job of this subject’s outline on the left, lit side especially the bags by the legs, (shot a year ago), though we live and learn, what’s the term again? Foresight is a wonderful thing? ;)
With this in mind I want to throw some examples at you which do not fit into the idea of a “silhouette” but do fit into the FGR explanation of being able to clearly trace the outline of a subject.
And now likewise with the knowledge of FGR I want to put into play how we can use lack of information and tap into that “fear of the unknown” with silhouettes in order to have some fun. Though it’s important to note that from a design / composition point of view, the reason a lot of silhouette shots work is because the subject is clearly defined / able to trace around.
The power of a silhouette can lead to many fascinating streets within the mind, part of this reasoning is due to our mind constantly looking for patterns that it recognises. It’s the same deal with monsters in the dark, faces in clouds, shapes in the toasted sections of our bread or artwork in coffee froth.
We cannot, literally cannot, turn it off. And because of this we can use it to our advantage if we start being a little more creative with shapes.
As you can see from the image above (top) I managed to create a really interesting “Alien” shape based on getting my friend to wear on oversized hoody and a torch in his hand. The scene really came to life here because of the back lighting from the moon (I know right, some of you thought it was a day shot I bet haha :D).
Did I plan this shot? Not at all, we were actually finishing up a shoot prior (pictured below) and heading home, we just happened to walk past this field on the way home and the fog was out with the moon overhead. We couldn’t let the opportunity pass!
So it’s genuinely interesting to me to go back in time over a year ago and understand WHY this shot works rather than just looking at it and saying “Yeah, it looks cool!”.
As we were experimenting with long exposure etc and trying to make butterfly wings I tried swapping the white balance over for a different feel (article on that coming soon!) and well… funnily enough, a warm looking moonlit night covered in fog ended up being just the ticket to convey the emotion needed for a creepy alien invasion haha!
I hope this is an interesting insight into some more techniques you can use to step up your photography and push yourself further in the game of conscious composition.
Just like last week I wanted to really push Tavis’s “Canon of Design” out to you because it has absolutely blown me away and his teaching style is phenomenal.
If you’re interested in truly understanding how to improve your composition consciously I really urge you to go check it out.
*Disclaimer, the links to Tavis’s blog “Canon of Design” is to paid content that you will not be able to access without getting a membership. I earn / get / receive absolutely NOTHING from this and nor do I aim to, I’m simply sharing with you what I believe to be one of the best resources for furthering your education on composition.*