Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Learning to See: Finding Foreground

When we're on location, we spend a lot of time looking for foreground. We're looking for something more interesting than scrub or gravel. We want to convey a sense of location - not just distant, untouchable beauty... but the feeling that you are a part of this place. You can feel the air on your skin, reach out and touch it, walk into it. We want you to feel that this place is right in front of you. You are standing there experiencing it in person. Maybe that's asking a bit much from a photograph, but we do try. :)

The above photo is from Snowmass Wilderness in Colorado. We spent hour wandering these beautiful hillsides - looking for foreground in a place that offered stunning beauty, but not much foreground. I used the interesting bark of the tree to give the viewer a sense of the texture of the bark. When you know how that papery, white bark looks and feels, you gain a deeper understanding of the place. That's my theory, anyway.

I think that if you can get up close and personal, your brain interprets the image more fully. You start to feel the textures in the bark, the warmth of the sun on your face - you know these sensations, and when you see a photograph, memory mingles with vision to evoke a response. This shot from the everglades in Florida is entirely different from the last one. When you look at a photo, do you take the time to let the sensations of the place sink in? The dry grass crackling underfoot, the wind rattling in the trees, the light filtering through heavy thunderheads. And does the foreground in this shot help draw you in?
And what about shooting in locations that seem similar to one another? Is one desert just like the next? Sand, tumbleweed, dune... how do I convince you that you haven't this this desert before? The sky - lovely as it is - doesn't tell you a thing about where you are. The distant mountains are indistinct... it's the foreground that gives you a sense of place.This is Utah's beautiful desert (above). And this one is in California's Death Valley National Park.
And this is Arizona. Foreground isn't always necessary - but it can be an important defining element. Get creative! Invite the viewer to step into your mind and see through your eyes.

Does finding a foreground element and composing an image come naturally to you? Or do you struggle to include foreground details in your photos? Do you have suggestions or tips for other photographers? Comments are always welcome. Maybe others can learn from your experience!

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Anonymous Jay Goodrich said...

I am always impressed with Varina's and Jay's sense of foreground. You guys always nail it perfectly. I think most struggle with the foreground elements. I know I do. The one thing I always try, especially in reflection situations is to get low, really low and put my lens really close to my subject. Then I shoot. Once I shoot, I inevitably make small shifts in my location and then shoot some more. I am looking to lead my viewer's eye into my composition. Great post!

March 25, 2010 at 3:13 AM  
Blogger Varina Patel said...

Thanks, Jay! :) Great tip! We try to get nice and low too - as close to that foreground object as possible. And like you, I'll often shift my camera a bit at a time until I'm really happy with what I'm seeing through the viewfinder.

You also make a good point about leading the eye into the composition. It's important to make sure that your foreground pulls you in. Sometimes, a foreground object can seem disconnected from the scene - and when that happens, I want to adjust the composition.

We definitely don't always get it right, though. :) Maybe I'll have to post about that sometime.

March 25, 2010 at 6:49 AM  
Blogger Loïc BROHARD said...

Hi Varina,
I have discovered you great work via Photoburst. I would be honored if you would join this relatively newly created Facebook group (@ to promote your work there (please post a link to you website), and invite your friends.
You will also see a few familiar photographer names from Photoburst here !
Thanks in advance !
Best regards, Loïc

March 28, 2010 at 8:56 AM  
Blogger Varina Patel said...

Thanks for the invitation, Loïc. I will take a look!

March 28, 2010 at 9:10 AM  

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