It is natural to see something exciting and to quickly grab a picture of the subject, but unless it is something truly fleeting, you will gain if you take a moment or so creating a composition that supports the idea of the picture and adds to its visual interest. Pro photographers understand and use the secret of paying attention to the foreground so that it adds to the strength and effectiveness of the composition, and so can you. Otherwise opportunities for good photos could turn into mere learning experiences as you discover foregrounds that turn potentially good images into poor ones. The grass closest to the camera in the first image is out of focus and turns what might have been a professional-looking image into an amateur’s snapshot. The limbs in front of the windmill in the second picture are as distracting as a pile of clutter. Maybe we can formulate a prime rule of foregrounds – keep them clean and sharp.
You can use a wide angle lens to increase apparent the size and visual importance of foreground objects so that they become one of the first things people notice in a photo. The flower’s bright colors and size grab the eye in the next photo, and although we’re aware of the cabin in a general sense, most people are more likely to look at the flowers first before moving on the building. Once their eyes land on the building it looks to be ion focus because a wide lens also causes objects a considerable distance beyond the point of focus to appear sharp. The flag in the second photo gives the eye a place to rest momentarily following the boat’s wake trailing to where it meets the distant riverbank at the upper right “rule of thirds” intersection. The flag’s bright colors contrast with the others in the tranquil scene and the angle of its staff approximates that of the wake, giving the eye one more reason to move diagonally from lower left toward the upper right area of the image. Again, a wide lens kept everything sharp from foreground to far into the photograph.
The bear’s head is both foreground and subject in the next image and a big part of its success is that the nose, whiskers, eyes, and forehead are all rendered sharply. Although the bear didn’t threaten me I did not want to cause a problem by moving into it’s “personal space.” Using depth of field preview assured having an aperture that would render these zones with great detail with my medium length zoom lens.
An earlier post dealt with the power of leading lines in composition, and here’s another example – – the foreground lines of the fence, shoulder, and road begin at the very edge of the picture and lead all the way to the lighthouse and building. In the next photo a different sort of leading line zigzags across the snow and out of sight behind the trees. Using it at an element of graphic design in the foreground adds interest to the foreground and the photo as a whole.
You can use a foreground to help tell a story as I did in the photo of people walking in the rain. The reflections on the street of those closest to the camera underscore their status as slightly soggy tourists traveling light and lacking personal shelter. The next photo uses the reflection in quiet water of a docked sailboat to echo the bright theme of the watercraft in a muted echo. Both of these images “break” the rule of thirds with their centered subjects. It works in the European photo because the narrowing street takes the eye to the people. In the boat photo it works because the both sides of the boat also lead from the outside toward the bow of the boat.
The foreground of floating birch and aspen leaves underscore the recurring story of the seasons in this photo of a Wisconsin lake, and seeing the stump’s roots in the shallow water near shore speaks to the clarity of the water.
The final images are from cliffs along Lake Superior’s Minnesota shore, some 200 feet (65< ) above the surface of the lake. The first was made just south of the mouth of the Baptism River and looks north across an inlet to a feature known as "Shovel Point." The second looks toward the southeast along the shoreline and reveals the rocky cliff below a thin line of soil. Both use vegetation in the foreground to anchor the foreground, add interest, and provide perspective to the other elements of the photos.
Wrapping up, make sure that your photos have interesting foregrounds and are clean, uncluttered, and sharply focused. Using a wide lens helpd keep everything sharply focused, but be willing to use longer lenses when it make sense to do so or dangerous not to. Depth of field preview will help you see how sharp your final photos will look. A foreground that ties into and supports the theme of the photo will give images that are visuallyh and intellectually stronger. Remember to practice what you learned here along with other thoughts covered in this series of posts dealing with composition. Practice not only makes you better, it becomes more natural to use what you’ve practiced, and over time, good composition can become almost reflexive. Foregrounds are the pro Photograhers Composition Secret No. 7. Be sure to check out the others.
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Check out all the Pro Photographers Composition Secrets:
1. Leading Lines
2. The Rule of Thirds
3. Beaking the Rule of Thirds
4. Self Assignment: Leading Lines and The Rule of Thirds
5. Framing the Subject
6. Negative Space
7. Graphic Design
10. Patterns & Repetition
11. 9 Composition Self Assignments
12. Use Color as a Focal Point
13. Balance and Symmetry
14. Unique Perspectives
15. Geometry and the Triangle
© 2011, TheDigitalPhotoCoach.com. All rights reserved.
© 2011, TheDigitalPhotoCoach.com. All rights reserved.