Thinking in 3D – Foreground

Jack Sparrow in Chains
Jack Sparrow in Chains
A photograph is a two dimensional, flat image. But it is of a three dimensional world. You need to be thinking about how to tell the viewer about all three dimensions. To do this think of your image in terms of three parts

The Foreground, what’s in front the model.
The Middleground – not be confused with Middle Earth – where your model is.
The Background, what’s behind the model.

The Foreground Makes The Image 3D

A lot of the time we try to remove everything we can from in front of the model. We’re focused on just seeing her, and don’t want the distractions. But very powerful, deep images can be created by putting something between the viewer and the model.

Something in the foreground does is place the model in the 3D space the viewer is creating in their minds. They know what is behind her – she blocks it – now they have an idea what’s infront of her because something blocks her.

Depth of field helps with this three dimensional idea too. Normally the things in front of the model will be out of focus. They will be big and fuzzy and the viewers brain will use that to put the object closer to the camera in their mind.

The Foreground Focuses The Eye Where You Want It

The most obvious thing you can do with something in the foreground is block something you don’t want the viewer to see. Do you remember the scene in the Austin Powers movie where the to main characters are walking around naked, but they keep having their private parts obscured by things in the foreground? (YouTube with lots of off-color humor). This has a number of examples of using the foreground to hide things.

Another way to move the eye is to put lines in the image that will draw they eye toward your model. You can use foreground objects to make these lines.

Lastly you can add story information in the foreground. If you have a model sitting behind a desk and in the foreground on the desk is an out-of-focus gun, you’ve added a story element.

Thinking in 3D – Background

If you’ve signed up for our free model photography mini-course, then you know that one of the 10 Common Mistakes of New Model Photographers is not watching your backgrounds. They having stuff coming out of their model’s head, like telephone poles or trees. Too often we don’t pay attention to what is behind our model and mess up a great image.

For me the biggest use of the background is to add information or feeling to the image. (How to Create Feel In Photographs is lesson #13 & #14 of the mini-course). This is why I’m not a big fan of plain white backgrounds. A plain background is great at removing distraction and focusing the viewer on the subject, which is a good thing when you are creating a catalog or fashion image because it is all about the clothes. When you are creating more artistic images, you need to use everything you can to add meaning and emotion.

Aerial Dance on Black
Aerial Dance on Black
Even when I’m using a plain background – black more often than white – I like to put some color in it. Like this image of an aerial dancer. The fact is a person floating in mid air like an angel is pretty good all by itself. The white she’s wearing separates her from the background well. But the splash of color takes it to a different level. And it has become part of my style.

Another way to use the background is to put something in it that gives it context. Maybe that is a city skyline to a swimsuit image, which says where they are and ads an cosmopolitan feel. Or a wooden wall, that gives a grunge or dirty feel to it. Or even a group of zombies to tell you why the model is carrying a shot gun. (See these images and post your backgrounds in the forum).

Think about your background. Use it to turn your images from good to great.

How have you used your background to change the meaning or fell of your images? Show us in the forums.

Focus – Decide Where They Look

Locked and Loaded
The power of being the photographer is you decided what the viewer sees. No matter what else is going on on set, no matter how big or small your shooting space is, no matter if your model is tall or short, or any of 100 other little weaknesses of reality, as the photographer you control the frame. You get to pick what the viewer does and doesn’t see.

You need to be thinking “What do I want the viewer to focus on?” as you are creating an image. Once you know this, you can use many different techniques to pull the viewer where you want them to go.

If you don’t know what you want them to look at you’re betting on chance to create a great image.

Focus is actually one of the tools you can use to get the viewer to look where you want. I like to think of focus as the parts of the image that are fuzzy verses the parts that aren’t. Guess what the viewer looks at? The sharp parts.

You can also use composition – where you put various things in the image – to focus the viewer.

I’m going to write a number of articles about various tools you can use when creating a great image over the next thirty days, but you need to first know what you want.

Yes, having a hot chick on a white background is easy, but it isn’t great. Lots of people will like such an image, but they are liking it because of the subject, not because of the photography. We need to take it to the next level and make it about a hot chick in a cool setting, with quality craftsmanship.

White Balance Trick: Tungsten and Natural Light

Thursday I had a comercial shoot during the day at the studio and needed to be somewhere downtown in the evening so I decided I’d just hang out at the studio while one of my partners shot. Bob Warren was shooting traveling model Hollis Ireland that evening and invited me to come along. He planned to go to a number of places around the studio and shoot just using natural light. Hollis is super hot redhead so it didn’t take much arm twisting to get me to come along.

The sun was fast dropping and the Texas wild fires where doing interesting things to the golden hour light. When we got to our last location the sun was almost down. We were shooting under an overpass, using the tungsten lights as our light source. I asked Bob what he was doing for white balance and he said he was using tungsten, but that the natural light would have an interesting blue cast. Ok, whatever. I switched over.

Then I was blown away by what happen.

Where the overhead lights hit the model she was a warm gold color like you’d expect from tungsten – though I’m not sure why changing my WB didn’t make that white. But where the natural light hit anything, it turned a rich blue color.

As the sun went down, the blue got darker as you’d expect. (The less exposed/more underexposed something is, the darker the color.)

This is my favorite image from the shoot and shows the dramatic difference in color temperatures. There was no color work in post production at all.

The only negative to these images was my ISO was cranked up to 1000 and the images where still underexposed giving me a lot of noise. I used Lightroom’s noise correction to fix some of it, but now I feel the skin is too smooth.

Next time you are out shooting at sun down, look for some tungsten light and try this out for yourself.

PS: Don’t worry Shawna and I are planning our return to podcasting, and there will be an expansion of what we’re doing here at P&M to build up the community.

How-To Build a Cyclorama Photo Studio

I’ve always called a cyclorama an infinity wall. It is a white background that curves as the bottom so you can’t see where the floor ends and the wall begins. There is no line there.

Here’s a great video on how to build one. This is no simple project. They really build not only the curve, but also the floor.

Oh and the video itself is really well made and fits how we do things at my studio. Though photographer and model does not endorse the use of power tools while only wearing lingerie for safety reasons.

Hat tip to Chase Jarvis for pointing out the video.

Ep 110 – Photographer Mike Wilson

You have questions; Ron and Shawna have answers! Photographer and Model is your one stop shop for everything model photography.

Sometimes photographers bring really cool ideas or props to the table. Photographer Mike Wilson is probably the only guy who has brought something from 30,000 leagues to the table, though. He also had some interesting perspectives on this week’s listener question which, without surprise, Ron was able to relate to firearms. Check out this awesome interview with “The Nowhere Man.”

Mike’s Website

Mike on Facebook


Michelle Green

Larry Grant

Kenzie Stevens

Ep 109 – Photographer Oleg Volk

You have questions; Ron and Shawna have answers! Photographer and Model is your one stop shop for everything model photography.

When you interview models and photographers every week, you hear all
kinds of reasons for why they became involved in model photography.
Never before this episode, however, had we heard “concern for the
direction of American politics” as one of those reasons. Allow us to
introduce photographer Oleg Volk. He is one of those photographers
that can use the verb “shoot” in a variety of contexts. If you browse
firearm catalogues and publications, chances are you have seen some of
his work. In this episode we shoot the breeze with Oleg, and amongst
other things, he tells us what it is like to train models to handle a

Oleg’s website


Ep 108 – Travel Shooting

This week, Ron & Shawna discuss how to plan for a shoot when traveling for pleasure or for work. Good advice to make certain that when on location, in an unfamiliar place, you can still create beautiful images of beautiful models.

Ep 107 – Designers SINched

You have questions; Ron and Shawna have answers! Photographer and Model is your one stop shop for everything model photography.

Models and photographers are not the only ones with unique tales from
the set. Designers SINched have stiched together some strange and very
cool stories for us in this episode. Plus, they were kind enough to
offer their insight on how they select models and photographers to
showcase their products. Speaking of SINched products, their designs,
and this week’s discussion, are not limited to corsets. We talk kevlar
and historical costuming, just to give you an idea. Check it out!

SINched website

SINched on Model Mayhem


Model Spleen

Model Titania Lyn

Model Kristin Lee

Model Apnea

Photographer Bucket

Blind Monkey Studios

Photographer Vara Papas

Ep 106 – Photographer Larry Munne

You have questions; Ron and Shawna have answers! Photographer and Model is your one stop shop for everything model photography.

This week’s guest is pinup photographer Larry Munne, a long time fan of the podcast and instructor of photography. We have had pinup photographers on the show before (one excellent example being Robert Alvarado), but Larry is not just a rehash of pinup talk. We had an awesome time discussing fashion concepts for weddings, model theatrics, and why you might not want to take photos full time. If that were not enough, we even talk Weiner…and why his shenanigans raise a bigger question: will the photos you post in your model photography ventures come back to haunt you? Check it out.

Larry Munne’s Website

Larry on Model Mayhem

Larry on Facebook


Model Sam Delgado

Photographer Lou Freeman

Photographer Robert Alvarado

Photographer Sam Tang

The Podcast Collection

The Model Photography Blog