|Through the Trees, Warwick Ma.|
Snow can Screen, Chesterfield NH
Stuff Gets in the Way!
|Spire Screen, Keene NH|
Photoshop’s Disappearing Acts
Spofford Village, NH
About five years ago, I published an article reviewing the various ways that distractions can be removed using Photoshop. Specifically, I was trying to remove a branch from in front of a church in Spofford New Hampshire. I used simple cloning and patching to erase the branch and Puppet Warping to move it to the side. Sadly, at that time, Smart Fill was not yet available. All of these techniques can be challenging and time-consuming, but I always love the process of removing distracting stuff.
|Puppet Warped Branch|
|Steeple Cleared - Much Work|
In this case, as I stepped back from the removal process, I discovered that I actually preferred the original image, branch and all. Over time I have become more aware of how some natural screening elements can enhance the interest of compositions.
The Glory of Tangles
I reviewed my archive of favorite images and found many in which the screening elements seemed to add to the image’s attraction and I tried to understand the situations in which a little screening was not so bad.
I found a few broad categories of images in which there seemed to be value in looking through foreground “stuff”. Of course, I am talking to photographers here, and you will inevitably have your own tastes and preferences, but perhaps this exercise will encourage reflection on the when screening is ok.
Contribution of the Foreground to the Story
|Weathersfield Barn, Vermont|
It is obvious the tangle of brambles in front of the dilapidated barn in Weathersfield Vermont is essential to the focus of the image. The same is true of the ice coated bushes screening the barn in Marlborough New Hampshire, taken in the aftermath of the disastrous ice storm of 2008.
|2008 Ice Storm, Marlborough NH|
The line of trees with classic sap gathering buckets screens the barn, but, in all these images, the screenings do not distract, they add an essential aspect to the story of the images.
Contrast with the Background
|Stickney Brook Falls|
For me, the foreground screens are most effective when they contrast with the background. I see this most frequently when I place sharp features in front of the soft flowing water, whether it is cascading brooks or waterfalls.
|Beaver Falls, Colebrook NH|
Contrast may also include differences in color or tone, such as the brilliant foliage in front of the dark house or the snow covered branches contrasting with the rich red building
|Roads End Farm, Chesterfield NH|
|To Mt. Monadnock, Jaffrey NH|
I also found images in which the contrast was primarily between near and far, with distant grand landscapes.
|Distant View, Newfane Vermont|
Foreground elements can also partially frame and highlight a key portion of the more distant subject. The sunlit trees in the picture of a Northfield Massachusetts pasture break only slightly to reveal a distant horse, gazing in the October light, and the three trees on a hillside in Pomfret Vermont nicely draw the eye to the distant barn.
Practical Considerations and Sheer Laziness
There are many times when it is not possible to frame a composition without including screening stuff, but I often try my best to crawl into some awkward locations, which are usually wet or dangerous, to get around the obstructions. Even when that is possible it often means accepting a suboptimal composition.
|Perkins Pond Falls, Troy NH|
I like the image of the Perkins Pond Falls in Troy New Hampshire, looking down from the edge of the steep bank and screened by trees. On another occasion I found a spot down-stream, from which I could descend to the level of the brook, but it required considerable effort to work my way up to the level of the falls. A pretty picture and without obstruction but I think I prefer the shot from the bank, including the lovely trees. And, of course, it was also much easier to shoot.
|Perkins Pond Falls - Brook Level|
As always, the final decision about composing with screening elements comes down to personal taste. Although my nature is generally to avoid distractions, the benefits of a little contrast is often worth considering.