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3 Principles to Improve Your Foregrounds

Russ Barker (LeCCy)

Keywords: composition, guides, tips

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Foregrounds – More Bang for Your Buck!

One of the most effective techniques for adding that “WOW!” factor to your landscape photographs is to include an interesting foreground which complements your composition and helps the viewer to see what your subject is. If you plan and design your photograph carefully, the foreground can lead the viewer’s eye through the image, ending at the subject.

Foregrounds Sample © LeCCy

If you look around at the images that you admire by world-renowned photographers you will see this technique employed time and time again. Barely an issue of “Outdoor Photographer” or “Outdoor Photography” magazines will be published without images that use the foreground as an important part of the composition. To see the technique from its early days it would be worthwhile studying the work of David Muench. Whilst we know that all things are subjective- and right and wrong is a tricky thing to define in the art of photography- there are some things that we can all try to bear in mind before we press the shutter that may help us show the viewer why a scene captured our attention in the first instance and to show the subject to its best advantage.

Of course, these pointers should never be used as rules – even the most ardent proponents of compositional techniques such as the widely accepted (….and somewhat misnamed) rule of thirds would agree that this is a guideline rather than a rule and in photography, as in life, the oft quoted ‘rules are there to be broken (or at least bent)’ applies.

However, even within the loose parameters of artistic vision, there are fundamentals we can all think about at the moment of “The Click” that will help bring life into our images.



Leading lines

Perhaps the most often discussed are ‘leading lines’ and whilst this can apply to composition in general it is doubly important for effective foregrounds. In its most basic form what we are thinking about here is trying to create a visual flow through your composition that will take the viewer from one area of the image to another. Ideally we strive for this journey to be a smooth and pleasant one, rather than jerky and disconnected.


In Figure 1 at right it seems clear to the viewer that the subject is the mountain in the top of the frame: - the singular direction of the frosted reeds in the foreground lead the viewer’s eye from the bottom of the frame to the mountains in the top of the frame. Here the frosted reeds lead the eye along to the conclusion of the image – the day’s last light hitting the tops of the mountains.


Straight lines and geometric patterns such as these can be found all over nature (if you are actively looking for them!) and will always provide assistance in trying to frame your shot. Be patient and look for foregrounds that complement the image and effectively lead the eye to the main subject. In Figure 1 the impact of the frosted reeds would have been much less if they were piled in a jumble. The direction of the reeds, coupled with the light frost, is what makes them an effective part of the composition.


Foregrounds 1 © LeCCy


Once again nature geometrics are giving our viewer a helping hand here. The ridges in the foreground of Figure 2 at right are leading towards what is our final vision for the image – that wonderful sunrise over the cliff tops.


Now I can already hear you saying ‘but wait a minute, that’s simple if the rocks form those lines!’

Well, here’s the deal – I guarantee that if you look hard enough you will find ‘something’ in your view that will be able to act as leading lines. The devil is in the detail and being able to separate everything else from the composition and taking the time to find those lines.


Foregrounds 2 © LeCCy


(16 Votes )
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Originally written on June 28, 2010

Last updated on May 24, 2016

Russ Barker Russ Barker (LeCCy)

Awarded for his excellent  contributions to the Resources Laureate Ribbon awarded for winning a Nikonians Annual Photo Contest

Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom
Basic, 1464 posts


Duncan Drummond (Hallyboy) on March 15, 2014

Thanks for a very useful article. Concise, clear text with well explained beautiful photos equally clearly illustrating the text.

User on July 4, 2013

I have read these articles and think my photograph " The Bulldogger" meet this criteria

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