“Do you have an interesting foreground object that will anchor your composition?”
If you’ve traveled with Backcountry Journeys on a photography workshop, you’ve likely heard those words on more than one occasion.
Foreground interest is an important component of a well-rounded and interesting photograph. For many landscape photographers, finding and utilizing a striking foreground element is an unforgettable part of their in-the-field workflow. Foreground elements add depth and can help viewers to imagine themselves inside your scene, thus creating a more powerful landscape image that differentiates itself from average photographs and snapshots.
Next time you head out to a location, arrive extra early, even if you are familiar with the spot, or you have an incredibly strong subject in mind.
Alight, OK, so sunrise shots are already way too early in the morning. And it’s also dark. Maybe try this for the first time while shooting a sunset. You won’t be tired, there will be light, and there’s no excuse to give yourself extra time.
Once you arrive, take a look around. If you take the time to scout the area, you are bound to find something of interest that can anchor the foreground of your composition. Sometimes these elements will be obvious and sometimes you’ll have to walk around and get creative. Don’t be scared to get lower and consider alternate versions of your original composition.
It is pretty easy (let me tell you) to allow our subject to lure us into simply extending our tripod as high as it goes, size up the scene, find proper exposure, and start clicking away. While this technique certainly can achieve decent images, incorporating foreground interest into your compositions will generally make them better.
I think about locations like Valley View, a spot we are sure to photograph when Backcountry Journeys visits Yosemite National Park. When you arrive at Valley View, you’ll find an assortment of photographers, most of whom are lined up along the Merced River, tripods fully extended. But there is so much more to this scene that can be captured by getting low, right along the river. There are river rocks, which in winter can be capped by fresh white powder. Also in winter, there may be ice buildup that can act as a fantastic foreground. Because this spot is so famous and so beautiful, the scene can easily lure photographers into missing what could be possible by incorporating these elements.
Let’s take a look at just a couple of things that can help along the way, some of which we’ve touched on briefly already.
Use a wide-angle lens
With landscape photography, you’ll likely be doing this already (There! You don’t even have to think about this one). An ultra-wide, such as a 14-30mm lens might be a natural decision, but it is also a good one for this. There is a natural distortion with a wide-angle lens, which helps with depth and exaggerates the distance in a composition. You’ll find that elements in the foreground will appear more prominent, while distant details will fit really nicely within the frame.
Sometimes the best images are those that are most simple. Distracting elements are just that – distracting. Eliminating distractions is always necessary, so be careful not to accidentally add distractions when incorporating foreground elements. This may take some trial and error, and perhaps not every location has a ‘perfect’ foreground element. Just keep working, keep growing, and the payoffs will be there. Much the same as with the rest of photography. Keep growing, keep getting better.
We’ve touched on this already, but by getting low to the ground we can change our view a bit, and then will be able to utilize elements that are also low to the ground, such as ice, flowers, or mud cracks. Being low allows you to capture a nice portion of the sky, too, if it should have clouds and color that you’d obviously want to incorporate.
Shoot Vertically, and Point the Camera Down
When shooting landscapes we are certainly drawn towards placing our cameras on our tripods in the classic horizontal position. Don’t be afraid to turn that camera on its side (an L-Bracket will help), and shoot vertically with that same wide-angle lens.
These are just a few things you can begin to incorporate in an effort to better your images by finding strong foreground elements.
Not every situation and scene will require placing a ton of emphasis on the foreground, and that is probably true. However, you will likely be happier with your work when you don’t forget to find an unforgettable foreground for your next landscape image.
Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers, and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Katmai, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands National Parks, as well as internationally in Costa Rica & Brazil. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, and spent roughly five years writing and photographing for the award-winning Omaha World-Herald newspaper, out of his hometown, Omaha, Nebraska. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of trip leading and guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens, to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.