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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!