Photography is a two-dimensional pursuit happening in a three-dimensional world. When you see flat, boring, uninspiring photos, this can be just one of the causes. The photographer may not have understood the important relationship between the foreground and the background. You can use this relationship to add interest, change perspective and depth to a photo.
When I’m working a subject, I study the background first. It’s a very important part of any scene. It can be distracting or it can help draw the viewer’s eye to the subject. But beyond those facts, the background can serve as an important linchpin for your foreground.
For instance, if you photograph a wolf on the run in the foreground, it’s very difficult to demonstrate his speed and power if he’s just frozen against a static background. If however, you slow down your shutter speed and pan with the wolf, the background becomes an important element due to the blur created by the pan. The wolf stays relatively sharp against the blur and the blur appears to move across the shot making it easier for the viewer to understand the motion that was involved.
This connection between the foreground and the background is something you might want to think about when demonstrating size, importance, depth, etc.
For example, if you use a very wide angle lens and position it very close to a small foreground object, the foreground object will appear very large in the frame and something as large as a mountain in the background will appear to shrink. This tactic can be used to great effect to tell stories, shift viewer focus, change relationships and add a new dimension to the final photograph.
I could give many more examples, but hopefully you get the idea. Think in layers. Think about how the foreground and the background interplay with each other. My goal here is to get you thinking about the part that the background plays in your images and then – to get you to think about how to combine that with the foreground in such a way as to create more impact in your pictures.
NOTE: If you want to turn this into more of an advanced exercise, take the layering concept to another level by concentrating on the foreground, background and even the middle ground. Trying to add something of interest in all three layers of the photo really adds a sense of being there for the viewer. Exploring the relationship of size, closeness, location and import between the foreground, middleground and background will help make your photos pop.