Foreground

Many photos consist of various image planes in relation to distance (foreground, background …). It is a good opportunity to create spatial depth in images.

The main subject can be placed in the foreground, background or between the two. In this article, the foreground is featured as an artistic device in photography. In this case, the main subject is in the background but at the same time the foreground is crucial for image creation and can contribute to the image’s message.

Age and youth - Poland Age and youth - Poland

When creating specific images using the fore and background, both the foreground and the background or both can be in focus or out-of-focus. Depending on focus and depth of field, a completely different image can be created of the subject, from the same perspective and the same image section. The image’s message can also be changed completely.

In many images, the photographer strives to achieve a great depth of field in order to capture all the image planes in relation to distance in sharp focus. However, this can also come across as disruptive and dull. Compact digital cameras tend to use a great depth of field due to their small sensors and the related short lens focal lengths. A reduction in depth of field is almost impossible on these cameras.

By skilfully positioning the foreground, further effects can be achieved. With the right positioning of the foreground, e.g. unwanted objects such as people, vehicles… can be obscured in the image.

Example images for experimenting with the foreground
In the following image, the foreground with its graphical structure gives the image a completely different image effect than if the image had been shot without the foreground. The photo would seem flat and the subject would be uninteresting.

Mosque with branches in the foreground – Cairo – Egypt Mosque with branches in the foreground – Cairo – Egypt

The foreground can be captured in focus or out-of-focus. Often the sharp focus is on the foreground but creating an image with an out-of-focus foreground is not uncommon and in many subject situations is your first choice. The following image illustrates a foreground that is unrecognisable due to its exposure and sharpness. The black area was created by a canopy of foliage. It was positioned in such a manner so that the unwanted elements were obscured and the focus was on the meadow of flowers. A small gap in the canopy is responsible for the individual blades of grass that rise up above the meadow.

Flower meadow with natural obscuring – France – Lyon  Flower meadow with natural obscuring – France – Lyon

Sometimes the result of human intervention is placed in the foreground. This depends on the photographer’s intensions. Traffic signs or other signs, for example in the foreground are a popular element for creating foregrounds. In the following image the skier becomes a more ironic and amusing element.

Matterhorn and sign – Canton Valais – Switzerland Matterhorn and sign – Canton Valais – Switzerland

The landscape also provides interesting foregrounds even if they are only structures and shadow. A classic example would be the often monotonous desert sand that doesn’t reveal any structure until it is hit by a ray of light.

For the following image, the vintage car’s impressive bumper was selected. The photographer waited with camera pre-focused and one finger on the shutter release for something interesting to happen.

Girl and vintage car – Havana – Cuba Girl and vintage car – Havana – Cuba

Often plants are used as a foreground in landscape photography. The plants create spatial depth and allow the photographer to obscure unwanted elements, e.g. power cables or people. In the following image, the dry grass obscures the uninteresting areas of image and at the same time, creates a warm colour contrast to the sky and the hills in the background. The photographer lay in the grass to capture this image.

Campesino y carretera – Cuba Campesino y carretera – Cuba

The next two images show the Regensburg Cathedral with a sunflower in the foreground. The first image was captured using a 400mm focal length, the second one using a focal length of 100mm. In the second image the sunflower was used to obscure unwanted and uninteresting details.

Regensburg Cathedral and sunflower – Regensburg - Germany Regensburg Cathedral and sunflower – Regensburg - Germany

Regensburg Cathedral and sunflower – Regensburg - Germany Regensburg Cathedral and sunflower – Regensburg - Germany

In the following image, we can see a fusion of fore and background. The tree and sunflowers appear to be on the same image plane in relation to distance. By logically analysing the image, it is clear to the observer that the tree must be in front of the sunflower field. 

Tree and sunflowers – Tuscany – Italy Tree and sunflowers – Tuscany – Italy

The following image illustrates a special type of foreground, a frame. This is a very popular device in creating images. In this case, the canopy of foliage creates the frame for the landscape behind it. The photo shows another phenomenon that can occur in landscape images shot from a great distance. The further away the range of hills is from the observer, the lighter they appear to be. This is due to the light dispersion through the atmosphere. With greater distances more light is dispersed.

Landscape through canopy of foliage – Corsica – France Landscape through canopy of foliage – Corsica – France

Always look for a foreground!
That could be one rule. As with every rule in photography you can; i.e. you should break it. You cannot always force a foreground. For example some visibility thrives off its reduction and obtains its two-dimensional effect precisely because of a missing foreground.