How to use Foreground – Composition in Photography Series
Today we are talking about how to use foreground in your composition. There are so many ways to do this and you will love developing your eye for it!
We are continuing our composition journey together – this is part 3 of my composition series and we are talking foreground! As I was thinking about the content for this show I realised that using foreground is one of my favourite ways to compose an image. Lots of people associate using foreground with landscape photography which I love looking at but don’t take part in. I am a people photographer but I still make use of foreground all the time.
So don’t dismiss this is a landscape technique. If you look around you will see foreground being used across all genres of photography.
But what do I mean when I say foreground? In photography, your foreground is simply the part of your image that is closest to the viewer. It is at the front of your scene. As photographers we think about our background quite carefully. We look for good backgrounds don’t we? Foreground – not so much.
But actually, good use of foreground can often set you apart. Using foreground well in your photography can really take an image from mediocre to fantastic!
Let’s think about what good use of foreground can add to an image…
Probably the most obvious reason for including foreground in your image is to add depth to the scene. Of course a photograph is two-dimensional but that doesn’t mean it has to feel that way.
I’m sure you have had the pleasure of looking at a photograph and feeling as though you could walk right into it. That feeling comes from the photographer including some foreground, close to you, the viewer.
Take, for example, a sunset water scene. You have beautiful calm sea and a sky that’s on fire. The setting sun is reflecting right across the water. It’s a gorgeous setting and could be a photograph just like this with nothing else added.
But look below at the addition of the trees and hammock. All of a sudden there is depth. Another dimension has been added. You might have enjoyed looking at that sunset on the water before but now you feel like you could just stroll right in, lie down in that hammock and sip on a cocktail!
Here in Scotland we all have screensavers of scenes just like this – it gets us through the cold, dark days!
Closely linked to using foreground to add depth is the use of foreground to add context. Some scenes could be anywhere at all and that concept can be fun. We all love a bit of mystery don’t we? We love to fill in the details for ourselves.
However, sometimes as a photographer you might want to make it clear where your subject is. You might want to show it in relation to its surroundings. You want to show where it fits in the grand scheme of things. Foreground can be used to great effect to give your subject this context.
Take for example this beautiful little white chapel. It could make an aesthetically pleasing picture on its own. You would appreciate the chapel but you would be left to imagine for yourself where it is.
However, the photographer has not done this. By moving a good distance away from the little chapel and crouching low in the grass and flowers, we can now see that it is set amongst wild grass with stunning mountains in the background. We now understand how the chapel slots into its environment.
There are so many opportunities to frame your subject using something in the foreground. You only need to look around. When you do this you draw attention to your main subject in a really interesting way.
This is something I use a lot in my people photography. I love to take portraits and capture a real study of that person but I also love to step back and look for things in the foreground I can frame them in.
Obvious framing options are doorways, windows and arches and just because they are obvious doesn’t mean they are not effective. Use them whenever you can.
However, look for more obscure frames too. Trees, flowers, long grass, caves. I am going to go into environmental framing in more depth soon. It really deserves its own episode so I will leave it there.
Contrast adds depth and texture to an image. It really makes a scene come to life. To have contrast in a photograph, you have to capture light and shade.
More often than not the foreground you use in your image will be lit completely differently to your main subject. Usually it will be darker. Your eye is naturally drawn to the brighter parts of a scene so it does tend to work best if your foreground is in shadow and your subject is bathed in the light.
Take the image below. The foreground is quite dark and moody looking. It leads up to the main subject which is dramatic snow covered, sharp peaked mountain which is bathed in golden evening sunlight. Contrast in photography is truly a beautiful thing.
Another great way to use foreground in your photography is to allow it to lead your viewer’s eyes to the subject. Give your viewer a journey to go on. When you do this you become a storyteller, not just someone who takes photographs. Human eyes love to roam. Give them the opportunity to do that!
The boardwalk in the image makes you feel like you are standing dead centre at the very end of it looking out towards the water. Then it leads your eyes towards the water and the gorgeous sky.
Leading lines are very powerful and we will delve into this in more detail as we continue with our composition series.
Tips for using foreground in your composition.
Open your eyes to foreground opportunities. We are so used to this three dimensional world we live in that we can miss beautiful composition chances all the time. I would recommend that every time you are photographing with purpose (not taking snapshots) you look around you for a way of taking a similar shot with some added foreground. This one habit alone will transform your photography and open you up to new ways to compose frames.
Whilst you are looking around for foreground, move around too. Getting low is a great way of seeing how your subject will look with some of that lower foreground in it. A low perspective also adds huge interest to an image since it is not an angle we are used to. Grab your viewer’s attention by showing what is usually underneath our line of vision.
Take your time
Once you have found some foreground and you have it all framed up in your viewfinder, take a moment. Move it around to find the sweet spot and look for distractions. But remember to also ask yourself,
‘Has this improved the image/made the image more interesting?’
If the foreground hasn’t added anything then it’s just distracting. It might even look like an accident. Take some time to think it all through.
Consider your aperture
What is your foreground’s purpose? Maybe it is there to give depth or to add an element of voyeurism to your image (more about that in our framing episode to come). In that case you might want to blur it out using a wider aperture. Or maybe you are capturing a landscape and you want sharpness from your foreground all the way to your main subject and beyond. In that case you will want to select a narrower aperture.
Remember though, you are the artist. It’s your story so tell it any way you like!
Do you use add foreground to your images? Let me know if you have any other tips in the comments!