The Importance of Foreground

Some of the best landscape photographs have a strong feeling of depth, which makes you feel that you could walk into them. How is this achieved? David Hay explains

All the images that we create of three-dimensional landscapes are eventually viewed on a flat surface, either as a paper print or, more commonly these days, on a screen. The ability to show the third dimension, depth, requires the photographer to give the viewer some cues about how far away the different details are. Most commonly this is achieved by showing the diminishing size of distant features. By using a wide-angle lens, the most popular focal length for most landscape photographers, any details in the foreground are enlarged by their proximity to the lens. Distant details, such as mountains, are reduced in size, although sometimes to the detriment of their grandeur.

As photographers we can construct images which create a feeling of depth by placing interesting features in the foreground. I don’t mean that we should physically move things and place them in the foreground, although I am aware that some photographers have done this in the past. The viewer’s eye will be engaged by the detail in the foreground before being drawn further into the picture. The best images can have several ‘layers’ of interest. An interesting rock or plant in the foreground can lead the eye towards the middle distance. There, a track or fence will conduct the eye onwards towards the final destination, a ruined castle or craggy outcrop. This style of composition is practiced by some very well-known landscape photographers and it is so popular that it is widely copied nowadays.

The photograph this month was shot on a visit to Arches National Park in Utah. This amazing park is full of photogenic rock arches and striking rocky structures. I found there was a temptation to walk up to the rock arches along the well-maintained paths until they filled the frame or acted as windows to view the surrounding scenery through. This is the way that most of the...

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About Author

David Hay

I took up photography at the age of eleven and have been passionate about it ever since. As a retired biologist I still marvel at the beauty of the natural world and try and capture the colours and forms of natural things around me.

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