How Do You Find the Perfect Foreground?

You've got your subject, you've got your elements, you've got your rule of thirds composition, but you're missing something in the foreground. How do you find the perfect foreground to complement your image and give it that real wow factor?

When I first got into photography, I was backpacking through Eastern Europe as a rather arty student, so I was always going for that melodramatic black and white image in Prague's winter or for someone smoking a cigarette in an Amsterdam cafe. All very pretentious and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but when I look back on some of those old rolls of film, I'm struck by how little thought I ever put into the foreground. Some of my subjects were actually quite interesting, but my foregrounds were a mishmash of mush morass. Fast-forward to my interest in landscape photography many years later and my first purchase of a wide angle lens, and the contrast couldn't have been greater: I started filling entire images with foreground elements as I was so astounded by how much I could actually fit in the frame. The point of all this is that no matter the genre, it's hard to find a good foreground that complements your subject rather than detracts from it or overpowers it. But how do you come up with that perfect foreground?

That question brings us to this great video by Adam Gibbs, in which he takes us out into the forests of Vancouver Island and walks us through his process for getting great foregrounds: in this case, with waterfalls as the subject. What I found most interesting was not just what to put into your foreground, but also where to position it in relation to your subject and how much of the frame you should surrender to your foreground elements. Give the video a look and let me know how you go about choosing the optimal foreground.

Iain Stanley's picture

Iain Stanley is an Associate Professor teaching photography and composition in Japan. Fstoppers is where he writes about photography, but he's also a 5x Top Writer on Medium, where he writes about his expat (mis)adventures in Japan and other things not related to photography. To view his writing, click the link above.

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