Friday Foto Talk: Using Foreground Judiciously   6 comments

Yellow balsamroot fill the foreground in this recent image of Mount Hood in the early morning.

I’ve posted previously on using foreground elements in landscape photography.  We’ll look  at it from a  slightly different angle here, adding a bit of subjective opinion (surprise!) along the way.  But don’t worry, there’s plenty objective advice on successfully using foreground as well.

They are important, obviously.  But I think too many landscape photographers think they need to include close foregrounds in every picture.  I’ve also fallen prey to the frantic search for foreground while light is happening, but I’m more relaxed about it now, taking what is there.  The fact is I don’t think foreground is absolutely critical to a successful landscape photograph.

Foreground is certainly worth keeping in mind however.  It can add a sense of depth and, for very close foregrounds (the subject of last Friday Foto Talk), it can put the viewer in your pictures.  So how do we go about using foreground judiciously?

I visited this little waterfall near Lake Quinault, Washington this week. A mossy log forms a partial leading line in the foreground.

I visited this little waterfall near Lake Quinault, Washington this week. A mossy log forms a partial leading line in the foreground.

  • DEFINE FOREGROUND BROADLY.  It can be close, even very close.  But it doesn’t have to be.  A larger foreground subject can be placed further away in a composition and still act as a fairly dominant element.  If you place it too close it may be too dominant.  You don’t want the viewers to lose sight of that beautiful background.  Bonus: foreground elements that are even slightly further away will be easier to keep in focus along with your background.

Recent sunset on the Oregon Coast at Ecola State Park.  No real foreground here, just middle-ground sea stacks.

  • FOCAL LENGTH IS IMPORTANT.   Since balancing elements is important in any photo, focal length matters quite a lot.  If you’re at a very wide angle, say 16-20 mm. on a full-frame camera, you’ll need to get closer to the foreground subject so it doesn’t get lost.  Again, how close depends on its size, but also in the way it contrasts with the rest of the scene (color for example).  Exception: if you’re wanting to show a sense of scale, you may want a fairly small looking foreground subject.  Live subjects (especially humans) can be smaller in the frame because we naturally lock onto them whatever their size.
Sunset beach stroll on the lovely Andamon Sea island of Tarutao, Thailand.

Sunset beach stroll on the lovely Andamon Sea island of Tarutao, Thailand.  Humans can be fairly far away and look small, and still be a kind of foreground subject for the image.

  • OBSERVE OBSERVE!  I’m always looking near and far when I’m out scouting locations or when the light is nice and I’m shooting.  I’ll get my face up close to see what a very close composition might look like.  I’m not the type to look through the viewfinder while searching for compositions.  I only do that once I see something I want to shoot, in order to dial in the exact composition I want.
Thought I'd throw in one showing how I'm getting around on this little surprise trip back to the Pacific Northwest.

Thought I’d throw in one showing how I’m getting around on this little surprise trip back to the Pacific Northwest.

  • COMPOSE HOLISTICALLY.  If your foreground includes interesting patterns or leading lines, anything that helps the viewer to move on to the rest of the image, more the better.  But I don’t think in terms of abstract patterns, only the subject (see below).  So if I find a foreground subject that is interesting in some way, especially with regard to the overall environment I’m in, then I position myself to take advantage of any leading lines, layering effect, etc.

* Most landscape photographers will counsel that you look for the abstract patterns, leading lines and the like.  Though they’re important to include in photos, I think that’s putting the cart before the horse.  We are naturally attracted to patterns, and once you have a good amount of time behind the lens, you do this without any conscious effort.  What requires conscious effort is to find subjects that mean something.  And in the case of landscape photos with foreground, that means finding multiple elements (hopefully meaningful subjects) that work together well.

On California's coast, these large cobbles in the foreground are piled atop a wave-cut bench eroded and notched by the same kinds of rocks tumbled about during storms.

On California’s coast, these large cobbles in the foreground are piled atop a wave-cut bench eroded and notched by the same kinds of rocks tumbled about during storms.

  • MIX IT UP.  I try to capture a variety of angles on a subject or scene.  If I come back from a shoot with only images with close foreground, I don’t feel I’ve succeeded, especially if the light was good.  I want images with at least a couple different foreground elements, some close and some a little further away.  I also like getting a few with no real foreground elements (maybe mid-ground).

I will post a follow-up that uses an example shoot to show how to make foreground just one part of your landscape images, not the whole enchilada.  Have a wonderful weekend!

Recent sunset on beautiful Lake Quinault, Olympic Peninsula, Washington. The cedar trees a a framing foreground element.

Day’s end on beautiful Lake Quinault, Olympic Peninsula, Washington. The cedar trees form framing foreground elements.

 

Advertisements

6 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Using Foreground Judiciously

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Beautiful work as always, Michael. Thanks a lot for another helpful tutorial!

  2. This is WONDERFUL and the photos I LOVE>

  3. Great tips, as always, thanks Michael – hopefully I’ll remember some of it on our next trip!

Please don't be shy; your words are what makes my day!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: