A Place To Start.

Sunrise and Rough Seas at Nubble Light
The rocks and crashing waves provide an excellent foreground in this photo of Nubble Lighthouse in York, Maine.

In landscape photography, forgetting to include a prominent foreground element can often make or break a photo.

No matter how beautiful the scene in the distance is, if your foreground(or lack thereof) falls flat or lacks interest, often so to will the photograph.

I look at the foreground as a place for viewers to start their visual journey into an image. Something eye catching that makes them want to look further, keeping them engaged longer. The image above of Nubble Lighthouse in Maine illustrates how I used the rocks and crashing waves in the foreground to give the viewers a place to start on their way to the lighthouse and rising sun in the distance.

Choosing a Foreground.


When I first started out in photography I had read on numerous occasions about including a foreground element in the composition.

Initially I thought this meant there had to be something spectacular, rivaling even the main subject or scene in it’s awesomeness, an object that visually slaps you in the face and screams “Hey, look at me!” like the dock in this next image.

The obvious foreground.

In reality almost anything, even the most simple and unassuming can work well as your foreground.

The not so obvious.

In the image above captured along the Maine seacoast there’s really nothing overly special about the rock in the lower left, or the backlit splash of water towards the lower right. Yet both work well as a place to start as you view the photo.

From Mundane To Magnificent.

One way to make the mundane magnificent is by using a wide angle lens set close to your foreground. By using a wide angle lens, and setting up my camera and tripod low on the ice, even a simple leaf frozen just below the surface of the ice makes a wonderful foreground for this photo I shot on my way home from work last night.

Oak Leaf In The Ice At Sunset
Simple, yet effective.


The next time you’re out photographing, no matter how spectacular and awe inspiring the overall scene before you is, try to spice it up and give your viewers a place to start by including a great foreground element.

16 thoughts on “Don’t Forget The Foreground

    1. Same here! With an ultra wide angle I like to get low and close to really place a lot of emphasis on the foreground. As an added bonus, doing this also makes the foreground appear larger, something that comes in really handy when there isn’t a whole lot of good foreground potential to work with.

    1. This is one of the reasons I’m such an advocate of using a tripod. It slows you down a bit, giving you time to think about the photo you want to make, rather than simply walking up to a beautiful scene and clicking away.

  1. Not having a good foreground element is probably the #1 mistake I see in amateur photos. Nowadays, finding a nice foreground is the first thing I look for. Great post.

    1. Lack of a foreground is definitely a rookie mistake, one we’ve all made. Not surprising really, it can be really easy to become overwhelmed when you’ve got a really great scene in front of you.

  2. Thank you Jeff, I do try to remember but sometimes the foreground gets away from me. A great reminder here. Love the Nubble light photo.

    1. The issue you’re having is because you are focusing on your foreground. The closer the you are to the foreground the worse it’s going to be. Even when using a small aperture like f16 – f22 to give yourself more Depth of Field, when you focus really close to the camera the shallower the DoF is going to be than if you move the focus out a little further.

      I could go on and on about figuring out hyperlocal distance, which takes into consideration focal length, aperture, subject distance, as well as sensor size -crop or full frame, to calculate where in the scene you should focus to get the maximum DoF. I have several apps on my iPhone that making it easy to figure out. Generally speaking though , what works for me is to focus about 1/3 of the way into the scene, give or take. This will give you acceptable sharpness from foreground all the way to the background.

      Of course if you want to place a lot of emphasis on the foreground you can bring the focus point in a little closer to the foreground.

      FYI – when I do feel like being a little more technical or accurate the app I turn to is called PhotoPills. It’s got so many features besides a DoF calculator it’s definitely my favorite app for planning shoots. It can be used to plot when and where the sun will rise or set at your chosen location, it has an exposure calculator for when using neutral density filters, and so so much more that I haven’t even used.

      Heres a link for more info about PhotoPills

        1. There are other simple DoF calculator apps too, several are free. But that’s all they do, you put in the focal length, aperture, subject distance, maybe your camera model or whether or not its crop or full frame sensor, and the app calculates how far away from the camera you should focus. I’ll honest, I rarely use any of them. Instead I just wing it and go with focusing 1/3 (give or take) into the scene.

          One thing just occurred to me, you could use the DoF preview button on your camera. That will give you a pretty good idea of what is and isn’t in focus. The downside to using the DoF preview button is that because it stops down the lens to the aperture you’ve set it can make the view through the viewfinder get dark, making it tough to judge.

          Yet another thing that just occurred to me is that if you’re letting the camera choose the focus point that could be part of the problem. I never let the camera decide where to focus. If you’re able I recommend selecting a single focus point, and placing it where you want to focus.

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