When photographing landscapes with a wide-angle lens, you probably want something in the foreground, to give the photo some extra depth. It can make your landscape photo more interesting to look at. Just make sure your foreground subject is interesting enough.
There are a few ingredients that make a good landscape photo. Good light is obvious, perhaps even the most important of all. But also a good composition with leading lines and an interesting location can make or break a photo. We often choose for a wide-angle lens, or perhaps even an ultra-wide-angle lens, to get as much as possible in the frame, together with a nice object in foreground to add some depth. If possible, we crawl within a few centimeters distance, making the foreground subject very large in comparison with the rest of the landscape. Combine these things in the proper way and you can end up with an award winning photo.
But you need to be careful. Crawling with your ultra-wide-angle lens right up to that object will make it probably your main subject. Suddenly the landscape has become a backdrop; it is no longer the most important thing in the photo. That doesn’t have to be a problem, of course. If the image has enough leading lines to take the viewer to the background it will be great. Since the object in the foreground has all the attention, you’ll have to make sure it is an interesting object.
Having an object in the foreground of your landscape photo is not mandatory, not even with an ultra-wide-angle. An uninteresting stone will be very boring, unless it is a very important element of the photo. Also, simple branches, plants, or just grass may will not be very interesting, and it might even work as a distraction. In worst cases it can block the view. That is why it is wise to choose only an interesting object, that works as an addition. If it doesn’t contribute, simply leave it out.
I took some images of a tree in a nearby moorland as an example. First I used the grass as a foreground, something you might try in order to give the photo some interesting depth. But it doesn’t work. The grass is not very interesting and adds nothing of value to the photo. Not in this way, at least. When I looked around, something you should always do when you are at a location, I noticed a bed of white flowers that could make it more interesting.
And indeed, these flowers are much more interesting compared to the grass. It adds a lot of extra value to the photo. There are a lot of different compositions possible, different ways to place this bed of flowers in the frame and relative to the tree. You might even consider zooming in a bit, and play with the relative size of the flowers and tree. I choose a very low point of view, shooting through the flowers with the tree in focus. After all, I wanted the tree as a subject.
I was lucky to find these flowers at this location. If you cannot find anything that can serve as a good foreground object, you might consider a photo without it. Don’t try to make something out of nothing. It probably won't work, or even work against you.
Without a foreground subject I choose a central composition. Nevertheless, I don’t think I have a really interesting photo this way. But in this case the tree worked well as an example to make my point. Perhaps I will return to this tree within a few weeks, when the sun will set behind this tree, and see how it works out.
In the meanwhile, let me show a couple of examples with an object in the foreground, and let you decide if that object is interesting enough to serve as a foreground.
Bottom line; an object in the foreground can make your landscape photo very interesting. But only if the object is interesting enough, and adds value to the photo. Otherwise, just leave it out of the frame.
Do you always want a foreground object in your landscape photo, no matter what? Or are you critical about it? I would love to read about it in the comments.