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April 6, 2021

In the last few blogs I talked about using the compositional techniques of leading lines and /or framing to draw attention to the main subject of your photo. Today I will share another technique of using a strong foreground to do the same. Let’s start with explaining what exactly is foreground and why is it important in photography.

In photography foreground is as the word suggests, the part of the scene that is closest to the viewer/camera. When you look through your viewfinder on your camera or on your smart phone screen the foreground is the part of the image that is in the bottom part of your photo (mid ground is the middle third and background is the top third).

A good foreground acts like an introduction to the image and is what initially draws the viewer eye in. Hence you do not want to leave it empty. Look to fill it with some interest like flowers, plants, rocks, tree roots, leading lines or anything that is near to you and in frame. Let’s look at some examples to demonstrate this compositional technique. In each of the following photos look to see what is being used in the foreground to draw the eye in.

1. This photo was taken on the Icefield Parkway in Banff Alberta. What is the subject and what is being used in the foreground to draw your eye into the image

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I wanted to take a photos of the mountains. Following the foreground technique of composition I looked for something to use in the foreground and found these daisies. Because they were low to the ground, I needed to photograph them from a lower perspective to ensure the flowers and mountains are in the same frame.

*** TIP: Don’t be afraid to change your perspective. If you find a nice foreground that won’t fit into the scene, try moving your camera higher, lower, or to the side to incorporate the foreground into the frame.

2. Let's look at another photo. What is the subject and what is being used as the foreground element?

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This is a photo of the frozen Tiffany Falls in Ancaster, Ontario, Canada. The subject is the frozen falls. Here I used an orange oak leaf I found as the foreground element. The orange colour also adds a bit of warmth to the otherwise cooler tones of a winter scene.

3. Textures ( patterns ) can also make for an interesting foreground.

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In the above photo I used the cracks in the ice as the foreground element to add texture and interest. Textures make for a great foreground and can come from many things such a pebbles on the beach, grasses in a field or fall leaves like in the photo below taken in  Albion Hills, Ontario. 

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4. Foreground elements can also be nothing more than shapes and lines, such as the paint on a stretch of road, as in this autumn day photo below.  Here the yellow line is the foreground element  but also acts as a leading line drawing your eyes in.

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Here is another example of using a leading line as a foreground element. The rail track here at the Banff train station draws your eye to the subject of the mountains in the background. The stones around the rail also adds texture to the foreground.

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5. Sometimes a foreground element is not an actual line but an implied line like this row of taxicabs in New York City. 

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I chose to photograph this scene from a diagonal perspective vs straight on.  By shooting in this angle, when a viewer sees the image, their eyes will immediately fall on the cab in the foreground first, and the implied line created by the row will pull their gaze inward creating depth in the image.

6. A sunrise or sunset over a body of water can make for a beautiful image . Whenever I photograph  this type of landscape I try to find a  foreground element to balance the image and draw the eye into the frame. In the photo below of a sunset photo on Lake Ontario, I used the waves as the foreground element.

Here, I used a rock.

9. What to Avoid: In contrast,  in this next photo taken of a sunset at Mont Tremblant, Quebec,  its not a bad photo but it  is missing a foreground element hence nothing to draw your eye and immerse the viewer into the image  This is an example of what you should avoid doing as much possible.   if there had been a duck, a log, reflection of the sky  or leaves drifting in the water, the composition would have been improved.

*** TIP:  Once you find an interesting subject or background  try to look around for an interesting foreground element t to use to complete the photo.

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10. Lastly for this last photo example taken at Bow Lake, Banff, Alberta what is being used for foreground interest?

Answer: Here I used the leading lines from the grasses lining the edge of this stream leading into the lake. The pebbles under the water also add interest and texture.

I hope the  ten examples above has provided  you with a good start in your search of foreground elements to incorporate in your photos.  Let me now close with 3 tips I have learned over the years:

1.   Once you find an interesting subject or background,  try to look around for an interesting foreground element  to use to complete the photo;

2   Don’t be afraid to change your perspective. If you find a nice foreground that won’t fit into the scene, try moving you and and or  your camera higher, lower, or to the side to include the foreground into the frame.

3. Start small.   When I  first started looking for foreground elements to include in my photos I kept in my mind a small list of 2-3  possible things which I could use  eg flowers, bushes ,rocks and looked for those.    Once  the concept of foreground became more natural,  whenever I  went out shooting  I expanded to include other things as a foreground element.   

Cheers and have fun shooting !


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