In last week’s article I explored some of the ways you can use foreground interest in traditional landscape photography.
That’s created an interesting theme to follow, so this week I’m going to look at more ways you can use foreground interest to improve the composition of your photos.
Let me give you an example. Here’s a black and white photo I made with my iPhone while out for a walk. The machinery laying in the grass was ideal foreground interest. I crouched down with my phone and made this photo.
It shows how asking a question (what can I add to the foreground to make that part of the photo more interesting?) made me think about the composition. It also made me look for the best viewpoint to make the photo from.
Looking for foreground interest and deciding what to include (or what not to include) in the lower third of a photo forces you to make decisions about the composition. That one little question has a profound effect on the final result.
What is foreground interest?
Foreground interest is something that you include in the lower third of the photo to improve the composition.
In landscape photography it helps draw the viewer into the photo by creating a path that leads from foreground to the middle distance to the background.
In other photos it can add an extra layer to the composition.
Here’s an example.
The blue fence fills the lower third of the frame and provides context. It’s part of the house’s environment.
The vertical lines of the blue fence oppose the horizontal lines of the cladding on the white house, sending the eye in different directions around the frame.
Now, imagine the photo without the blue fence, just more of the white house. It wouldn’t be nearly as interesting to look at.
Foreground interest as a framing device
The photo below shows the statue in the cemetery in Punta Arenas, Chile, dedicated to the unknown Indian (indiecito desconicido). The tomb contains the body of an unknown indigenous man buried here in 1929. Locals visit the statue to offer prayers and leave tokens of appreciation for favors granted by indiecito, who is believed to have miraculous powers.
I could have chosen to close in on the statue, making a composition something like this cropped version.
But the plaques surrounding the statue are such an important part of the story that I stepped back and made sure I included them in the composition. They add foreground interest at the bottom of the photo, and frame the statue (the main subject).
More examples of foreground interest
The more I look through my photos the more examples of foreground interest I see.
Here, the steps leading up to the door are just as important as the door itself. They have character and tell us something about the architecture of the South American town where I made the photo.
In this photo I framed the car so there was alternating shadow and light in the foreground. This photo isn’t just about the car, it’s about the hard mountain light, the beautiful textures and the dry, dusty environment. It’s not the same if you remove the shadow in the foreground.
Foreground interest with normal and telephoto lenses
Most photographers think about foreground interest when they use wide-angle lenses. Especially in landscape photography, where there’s more time for you to set up and frame the photo.
But you can also use foreground interest with normal and telephoto lenses. In this case, you’re not thinking so much about the bottom third of the frame, but a foreground layer that can appear anywhere.
Let me give you some examples to show how it works.
Here I used prayer flags to frame the little boy playing.
In this photo, there were people standing between me and the street performers. So I used them to create an out of focus foreground layer in the composition.
In this portrait, I deliberately shot through the branches of a tree.
Most portraits shot with telephoto lenses have two layers – the model and the out of focus background. This portrait has an extra layer, made by the out of focus branches in the foreground, which adds even more depth.
You see this technique used a lot in television and the movies.
In this portrait of two men I focused on the one facing the camera, letting the other man go out of focus. He’s closer to the camera, so he becomes foreground interest.
This is another technique you see in television and movies.
It’s important to understand that you can’t include foreground interest in every photo made with a normal or telephoto lens, and nor should you.
But you still need to think about it, and make the decision that’s best for the photo’s composition. Is there something you can shoot through that frames the subject? Including it might add the extra layer that your photo needs.
Foreground interest and composition
These examples reinforce what I said at the beginning of the article. Thinking about the foreground, and what could go in it, is part of the process of composing and making a photo. It forces you to think, look beyond the obvious and make decisions about the best place to put the camera.
You can learn more about all aspects of creative composition with my ebook Mastering Composition. It has 20 heart-felt lessons that take you on a journey beyond the rule of thirds, exploring the other aspects of composition you need to understand to create beautiful photos.
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