Controlling Foreground in Photography

Controlling Foreground in Photography

  • As a general rule, the foreground carries more specific information than any other part of the image. Because this image plane is closest to the camera at the moment of exposure, small features and fine textures appear sharp and clear on film, and not masked by image haze or mist. Though this is usually an advantage, it can also impose special compositional pressures: if the foreground is to be subject to close inspection, there must be something interesting.

  • Pictures dominated by the foreground always look specific: the image evokes a particular scene, carries a particular message, rather than just symbolizing, say, a mountain landscape. But when the background provides the main interest, the exact nature of the foreground is often less important, although it should play a supporting role.

  • The foreground can provide an excellent point of access to the picture: a detailed foreground catches the viewer's attention and it draws the eye on into the photograph, to explore fully the more distant elements, which are characterized by a progressive lightening of tone. But bear in mind that if the foreground is too busy, the detail there will overwhelm the rest of the picture.

  • If the foreground dominates your picture, think carefully about the role played by the other subject planes: if you exclude the middle-distance and background entirely, you may sacrifice the landscape character of the picture, and simply create a natural-history still-life; or in an example of urban landscape, a city detail. Background and middle-distance do not have to be critically sharp, but one or other should appear somewhere in the image.

  • Lens choice and camera angle provide valuable controls over how much foreground appears in your picture. The function of camera angle is obvious - point the camera down, and you include more foreground - but focal length has a more subtle effect. Telephoto lenses have a narrow field of view and the closest sharp point that appears in the picture is quite distant. Wide-angle lenses, though, include more above and below the lens axis, taking in more sky and more foregrounds, and giving maximum definition. Therefore, when you are using a wide-angle lens, you always need to pay special attention to those parts of the subject that are close to the camera.

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