The Art of Figure to Ground: Photography's untaught secret
4.4 (519 ratings)
Course Ratings are calculated from individual students’ ratings and a variety of other signals, like age of rating and reliability, to ensure that they reflect course quality fairly and accurately.
3,094 students enrolled

The Art of Figure to Ground: Photography's untaught secret

For years, the Art of Figure to Ground was only taught to artists.
4.4 (519 ratings)
Course Ratings are calculated from individual students’ ratings and a variety of other signals, like age of rating and reliability, to ensure that they reflect course quality fairly and accurately.
3,094 students enrolled
Created by Adam Marelli
Last updated 9/2014
English [Auto]
Current price: $13.99 Original price: $19.99 Discount: 30% off
5 hours left at this price!
30-Day Money-Back Guarantee
This course includes
  • 1 hour on-demand video
  • 38 downloadable resources
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion
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What you'll learn
  • Learn how and why we want to add layers in photography (and I'm not talking about Photoshop here)
  • Learn how Figure to Ground will help you spot a scene before it happens (I give examples of how I use this technique in the video)
  • How to make pictures with 1, 2, 3, or even 4 subjects at the same time.
  • Lessons from Master Artists in this video include: Raphael, John Singer Sargent, Rosso Fiorentino, Jacopo Pontormo, & Paolo Veronese
  • How to choose a background and what effect it will have on your subject.
  • A practical guide to take you from Black and White to Color pictures using the principles of Figure to Ground.
  • Step by step guide to seeing a photograph before it happens, so you don't miss the decisive moment.
  • By the end of this course you will have a new found appreciation for master artists and never run out of material for your own photography projects.
  • A camera (any kind will do, from iPhone to Medium Format) trust me, it does not matter.
  • A notebook, we cover a lot of material. Its easier to write down your thoughts as you go along.
  • It is recommended that you watch "A Room for Improvement: Episode No 001, The Art of Seeing" first.

In this course "The Art of Figure to Ground" we will explore how to add layers to your photograph. Artists have used layers to tell stories in their images, but to make them work effectively we must fully understand the concept of Figure to Ground relationships. From street photography to portraiture, every layer is an opportunity to add something to your picture.

Have you ever wondered why professional photographers always get good images? Are they just lucky or do they see the world differently?

A Room for Improvement is the first photography program that starts training your most important tool, Your Eyes. While most of the photography world is obsessed with gear and post production, the real secret to taking amazing images is learning how to see like an artist. Join artist & photographer Adam Marelli as he shares the tools, lessons, and training that classical artist use to bring images to life. As a trained photographer, painter, and sculptor Marelli combines twenty years of art eduction into simple to follow lessons that you can do in your own backyard.


  • This course is divided into 7 Lectures that are a Master Class in Figure to Ground.
  • Lecture 1: Why your discoveries matter?
  • Lecture 2: Spot the Background first?
  • Lecture 3: Use black and white to see color.
  • Lecture 4: Work like an artist.
  • Lecture 5: Solutions from my portfolio.
  • Lecture 6: See the photograph before it happens.
  • The lectures are designed to be watched in order, but you are free to skip around.
  • This course is approxiamtely 45 minutes, with downloadable images from the lecture, and an assignment designed to highlight the tools from each lecture.

Marelli uses his own work and the famous artists who influenced his work to reveal "how artists work" and "how they learned to see in a completely unique way." For centuries these concepts were reserved for artist guilds and apprenticeships, but for the first time they are being put in a language available to photographers.


By the end of this course, you will understand why photographers always say that "the equipment doesn't matter." Learning to see like an artist is one of the single most fulfilling steps on the way to becoming a better photographer. In addition to improving your own work, you will be able to walk into any gallery or museum in the world and know, with full certainty, whether you are looking at a great piece of art or not.

Who this course is for:
  • Photographers who want to add layers to their photographs.
  • This course is designed for people who want to tell stories with their photographs.
  • This course will apply to Street Photography, Portraiture, Landscape, and Still Life photography.
Course content
Expand 7 lectures 01:02:11
+ The Art of Figure to Ground: How to build layers in a photograph
7 lectures 01:02:11

In Part 1, lets review your assignment from episode No 001 and see why discovery is an important part of the photo. We will review what you can do and what you should avoid if you want to see like an artist.

Preview 08:46

In Part 2, we will look at why background are so important to developing layers. You will learn what happens when we change our background and how that affects the power of our subjects.

Preview 09:57

In Part 3, discover why seeing the world in color and making images in black and white can be so challenging. We will look at lessons from Renaissance painters Raphael and Pontormo for tips on how to manage black and white and color scenes.

The Art of Figure to Ground: Use B/W to see in color (Part 3)

In Part 4, we apply the lessons of painted John Singer Sargent as he shows us how to practice capturing scenes while traveling. Whether you are shooting black and white or color, you will see how to transition from painting lessons directly to photography.

The Art of Figure to Ground: Work like an artist (Part 4)

In Part 5, we will look at examples from my photography so you have a step by step way to practice single and double layers. These exercises can be done at home or while traveling.

The Art of Figure to Ground: Solutions from my portfolio (Part 5)

The secret to good street photography is being able to see a picture before it happens. Here I give the before and after, as I set the stage and waited for the picture to happen. This approach will change the way you shoot and save you lots of energy that most photographers waste as they try to "chase down" pictures.

The Art of Figure to Ground: See a photo before it happens (Part 6)

For your assignment, I will describe how to build layers in your photographs using Figure to Ground as the foundation. This assignment will allow you to build stories in your pictures with power and clarity.

The Art of Figure to Ground: The Assignment (Part 7)