Landscape Compositional Tool #7:

Foreground Elements

Foreground elements are an excellent compositional tool in a landscape photographer’s compositional toolbox. Using this compositional technique adds depth and dimensionality to an image and can also provide interesting contrast to hold the attention of a viewer. All photographs have a combination of foreground, midground, and background. Some photos only have a foreground and a background, others have all three elements. In general, the foreground is the closest to the camera, while the background is the furthest back, and the midground is in between the foreground and background.

To incorporate foreground elements as a compositional tool, after finding your subject you want to photograph, look for elements in the foreground that will add interest to the photograph and will also add depth to the photo. Rocks, flowers, and grass are just a few things that can be used as foreground elements. A common way to photograph foreground elements is to use a wide-angle lens; however, this can shrink the background and lose the scale of the background element. A common trend in landscape photography today is to “over photograph” the foreground. This is placing too much emphasis on the foreground element so the background and main subject of the image is diminished. It’s important to incorporate foreground elements in a way that does not shrink the main subject of the photograph.

May 19, 2021

In the photo above from Bonsai Rock in Lake Tahoe, the rocks in the foreground help provide a sense of distance between the shore and Bonsai Rock. Without the foreground rocks, it would be difficult for the viewer to understand how far away the rock is from the camera. The rocks help provide depth to the image and three-dimensionality, which makes for a more interesting photo than if the foreground rocks were not present.

As another example of rocks making good foreground elements comes from Boulder Beach in Acadia National Park, Maine shows rocks in the foreground that helps the viewer understand the depth of this image and location. The rocks add dimensionality to the image to help the viewer understand the scene and adding interest to the photograph. With the sunrise colors reflecting off the rocks and the water washing up onto the rocks, it adds foreground interest to this photo that complements the midground and background of this photo.

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Rocks are not the only foreground element that can be used. As seen in the photo below from Stokkesness, Iceland looking at Vestrahorn, the dunes covered with grass and snow provides great complementing foreground elements for the mountains in the background. The colors of the grass and the snow complement the colors on the mountain covered in snow.

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In the image below from Yosemite National Park, California, the snow on the rocks in the Merced River complements the colors and snow in the midground and background. They add interest in the foreground to support the mountains in the background. These foreground elements help tie the midground and background together to create a complete image with interest in the foreground, midground, and background.

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Foreground elements do not necessarily need to complement the rest of the photo, sometimes contrasting foreground elements add interest to a photograph while adding depth to the photo. When foreground elements complement the background, it helps to tie the image together and connect the foreground with the rest of the photo. When foreground elements contrast with the midground or background it adds interest to the image, which keeps the attention of the viewer. Both types of foreground elements are important to making a compelling image using this compositional technique.

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As seen in the photo above, the green moss in the foreground contrasts with the pink cloud reflection, which adds interest to the reflection. By having a reflection that is an exact copy of the scene is not as interesting as when there are additional elements that adds interest to the reflection. The moss as the foreground elements helps to add more interest to the reflection and to the photograph, which holds the viewer’s interest when viewing the photograph.

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As another example from Silex Spring in Yellowstone National Park, the green grass in the foreground contrasts with the orange and blue colors in the midground of the photograph. The contrast of the grass adds interest to the photograph in a pleasing way for the viewer. Even though the foreground contrasts with the colors in the midground, the trees as the background and the foreground complement each other since they are both shades of green. The foreground element ties the background and foreground together, both of which contrast the midground colors, which highlights the midground even more and focuses the viewer’s eye on the main subject of the photograph.

Foreground elements add depth and dimensionality to an image to create more interest for a viewer. Foreground elements can be rocks, grass, flowers, dunes, almost anything of interest. These items can either complement the midground and background, or they can contrast the midground and background. Either way, foreground elements connect in some way with the midground and background of the image. This landscape compositional tool is a perfect addition to the landscape photographer’s toolbox. To learn more about other tools in the compositional toolbox, read this article!

How have you used foreground elements in your photography? Let me know in the comments below!

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