Figure and Background: The Planes Information in Photography

Normally when we do a photograph, we do looking give the prominence of our image to a specific element. This is something that has caught our attention, or simply wants to portray a subject that is important to know how to make it stand out in our photograph.

There are many ways to boost a member of our composition but before going into practice, we should know the theory? Do you know the differences between the figure and the background of an image? You know what they are and how they can serve the information planes of an image?

Only when you know the theory, you can consciously apply in practice!

Let’s start at the Beginning: What is the figure? What is the background?

As we saw when we speak of negative space, an image is divided basically into three distinct elements: frame, negative space and positive space. What we know as positive space (our parent, what we have photographed) is the figure of our image. While the rest happens automatically become the background. Figure of an image is one element that is different from the background; it is something we perceive independently, does not need another element to exist.

However, this does not end here. And it’s a concept that complicates (for it were) all figure and background are always appreciated alternately. Never both. What does this mean? It means that the human eye can not see two things at once: first sees and then sees another. If we said that the figure is something that differs from the background, that we are always looking figure. Let’s explain with a visual example to make it simple:


This figure is the cup of Rubin. It is designed by John Edgar Rubin, Danish psychologist known for studying the perception of figure and ground. It will help us understand the relationship between these two elements. If you look closely at the picture there is clearly a picture of a white cup. But, while there are two silhouetted profile faces black.

Depending on what you decide to look, you’ll see a figure or another and, consequently, you will see a fund or another: the cup will always be on a black background and the faces, on one white. When our eyes are focused on what was originally the line, it ceases to be to become the figure of our image.

So, if we want a particular element of our photography is the figure and never the end, what we should do is get that item call much more attention than the background, get the eye always consider figure get the curious eye does so in principle it is the background. That is, the figure draws attention and background goes unnoticed. How can we do this?

Characteristics of Figures 

In their study, Rubin finally determine some of the characteristics that made the eyes consider that a particular object was not a figure and background:

The measure: the smaller elements tend to stand out as a figure because it is considered that the background is something great ending for “embrace” the figure. Therefore, in the following image, it will be easier to see a window with three thinner than a window with four bars wider bars.

2222222222222222 Concavity vs. convexity: as a rule, the convexity used to be perceived as figure. Therefore, in the following image, it will be easier to see a triangle irregular pentagon:

3333333333333333333 Orientation: the lines are closer to the vertical or horizontal figures tend to be considered.

Track infield: those forms located at the bottom of an image are often not considered figures and background. Therefore, in the next picture it is easier to see a pair of triangular mountains:

444444444444444444444 Symmetry: the Symmetry generates figures. So if we have some in our image symmetry, symmetrical shape that figure will be listed and no background.

However, we must not forget the concept that we have explained before: figure and ground may alternate. So we have to be aware that the features described by Rubin help us, just to know what element highlight as contained in a first glance. But if the fund interests us for any reason, we can force our eyes and get to switch roles to effectively see a window with four wide bars. In that case, what was once contained now becomes background and vice versa.

Planes Information in a Photograph

What is able to recognize what is figure and what is the background?? to this theory do we care ? The figure and the background in the photographic world, offer us something very important: the planes of information.

The information plans are a way to organize what you’re going to have in your photograph. Basically have two functions: Expand and give depth to the image. We’ll see clearly in the picture below:


In this picture we could get to differentiate at least six planes of information:

  • The gentleman in the foreground.
  • Mr looking inside the store.
  • The guy walks back.
  • The bottom guy walking towards us.
  • The couple Fund.
  • Street settings.

As we said, using different levels of information in a photograph gives us several consequences.

First, give depth: if the image only appeared the man who is in the foreground, the picture would be much shallower.

And, on the other hand, get more info: If only we had the information you provide us the foreground of this (the first lord) image, perhaps we are left with the idea that it is a lonely street. However, including more characters in the composition, the street ceases to be lonely to become a busiest street.

How can we relate this to what we have been explaining so far? There are many ways to create different levels of information. One is using different components as possible shapes. On first reading, the Lord found in the foreground is the figure while the rest is the background composition. However, when we view the second lord, this becomes figure and the rest in background. If we’ve got several items that attract attention, get the viewer Photo go jumping from one to another, achieving a visualization of the photograph much more dynamic and also giving more information.

If instead we want to avoid different levels of information are generated and there is to be only one possible figure in our frame, we look at that no other elements that can provide extra information on our photography and, therefore, not there are other figures that conflict with where you want it to be the principal.

Though keep in mind it will be very difficult, if not impossible, that only has a figure and background. We have already seen that these are interchangeable between them so, at least in your pictures will always be two levels of information: the figure and the background. Take advantage of them!

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