Tip 5: Include an interesting foreground

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A creative foreground can turn an ordinary photo into an interesting one. It adds depth, without which, an image can be very flat and one-dimensional. An interesting foreground, the part nearest to the viewer in a photo, also gives context, perspective or contrast and adds to the mood. You can often use it to make the viewer feel they are right there in the scene.

When composing your shot, look around to see if there is something you can add in the foreground of the picture to make it a bit more special. It may be a plant, a statue, the silhouette of a person, a cross or any other object. Often just a change of position or viewpoint can do this. Sometimes the element in the foreground leads your eye further into the picture or provides a frame within a frame.

 

To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.

Elliott Erwitt


 

The best way to appreciate the impact of the foreground is to give you some examples:

Surfers at Playa Bocana, near Huatulco, Mexico

When taking landscapes, get down low and put the horizon line at the top of the picture to accentuate the foreground. Here the pebbles on the beach become a feature as well as the two surfers in the background. (Playa Bocana, S. Oaxaca)

Cactus plants, Estado de México

The bowl of cactus plants adds color and depth. (Rancho Las Cascadas, Estado de México)

Teotihuacán Pyramids, near Mexico City

Including the cactus adds a vertical object to a somewhat horizontal picture of the Pyramids of Teotihuacán

Teotihuacán Pyramids, near Mexico City

Getting close to the steps shows a feature of the Teotihuacán Pyramids as well as leading your eye further into the photo towards the Moon Pyramid.

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You can use trees at the front of the photo to frame the other elements, producing a much more dramatic effect, like with these buildings in Puebla.

Trajinaras at Xochimilco, Mexico City

The foreground in this image makes you feel you are on the boat on the canals of  Xochimilco, Mexico City. It also provides a frame for the rest of the photo

Tlalpujahua, Michoacán, Mexico

The lines on the roof in the foreground lead your gaze towards the church beyond. (Tlalpujahua, Michoacán)

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The silhouette of the statue of Pope John Paul at the Basilica de Guadalupe gives clues about the context and also adds depth to the photo

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The silhouetted people in the foreground are a major element of the photo which provides interest and the doorways act as a frame for the old Basilica outside. (Basilica de Guadalupe, Mexico City)

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Dancers performing the Danza del Calalá from Chiapas. Including the two figures dressed as jaguars at the front shows they are also part of the dance and at the same time, the leading dancer is framed between them.

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Moving back from the monument meant I could include the date of the major 1985 earthquake which devastated Mexico City. 

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Late afternoon shadows in a central street of Queretaro make an interesting foreground.

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The lines of the early morning shadows in Chapultepec Park in Mexico City lead your eye towards the back of the photo. I got down low to take this picture.

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Who wouldn’t like to be here? Mazunte, S. Oaxaca

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Getting close to the colorful fruit and vegetables at market stalls makes the viewer feel they are right there among the vendors and shoppers. (Valle de Bravo, Estado de México)

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Including signs in the foreground gives context and information, like this mural by David Siqueiros in Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City

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Look for anything near you to make the photo more creative, like this cactus plant on the left. Horse and rider, Central Mexico 

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The foreground of this photo shows we are in a library, even though the most stunning feature is the massive mural behind. (Bibliotheca Lerdo de Tejada, Mexico City)

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The cactus in the foreground says something about the setting. Horse and rider in central Mexico.

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Riding my bike around Chapultepec Park in Mexico City. You don’t have to show the whole bicycle, a part will do and you can use it to frame the scene.

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What is this man making? The glass spheres in the foreground give us a clue. He is making glass balls which will be Christmas decorations (Tlalpujahua, Michoacán)

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The picture of the Virgen de Guadalupe in the foreground on the right adds depth to the photo… Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City

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Instead of just shooting a painting straight from the front, you can get someone in the foreground taking a photo of it for a different shot. (Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico City)

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Showing the horse’s ears makes you feel you are there in the photo. Riding at Rancho Las Cascadas, Estado de México

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I got down low and included the dreamcatchers and feathers at the top of this photo to add interest to the Aztec dancers in the Zocalo, Mexico City

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A similar idea… a foreground element can be at the top of the photo, like these puppets hanging up at a stand in Puebla

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The foreground can also be the main subject with the background elements adding depth. Here a man and his son are preparing “tacos al pastor” at a small stand in Queretaro

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Getting down low and putting the cross with its symbols against the blue sky produces a more dramatic photo of this church in Queretaro, rather than just shooting it straight on.

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Including part of the blue VW Beetle adds color and context to this street scene in Queretaro

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The plant provides a bit more color and interest, with the green color contrasting with the orange in the background (Museo de Arte, Queretaro)

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A few bright green leaves add interest to this picture and also act as a partial frame. (Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City)

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The cross and angel lead your eye towards the church in the centre behind and frame it. (Cholula, Puebla)

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Finally, adding the pigeon in the foreground gives a photo which differs from the normal view of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City… and adds a humorous touch.

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