The Reason Behind Foreground Elements in Landscape Photography

Everybody tells you to put a foreground into your landscapes. But why?

Today, I want to give you the in-depth reasoning behind that practice.

The Problem of Two-Dimensionality

Photographs are, for the purpose of this article, simply a reduction

of the three-dimensional world around us into two dimensions.


Our eyes, being used to seeing three-dimensionally, are missing this

depth information when looking at photographs. A photograph will

therefore look the same if you look at it using just one eye versus

with both eyes.


So the photographer, especially in traditional landscape photography,

has to think of ways to suggest depth to the viewer, to trick the eye

and the brain into believing we are looking at a 3D scene.

How Foreground Elements Help Our Vision

Using a layering system of foreground, midground, and background is

the most basic way of suggesting three-dimensionality to the eyes. One

element being behind the other makes it clear that the image has



Next, imagine seeing an image of a dune. How do you know how tall it

is? The answer is: if there is no other information in the picture,

you can only guess. 


This is where scale comes in. Scale and size can be shown by the

camera angle, for example – pointing the camera upwards at an object

makes it look bigger, because it towers above us.


More importantly, other elements in the picture, of which we know the

size (such as the human figure, some rocks, animals or plants), are a

tremendous help for determining the size of other elements in the

picture. This is the main reason why everyone urges you to use

foreground elements! Scale is a fundamental aspect of landscape

photography. Making things look vast, huge, or microscopically small

is essential in creating a meaning or communicating your idea through

the landscape.


A visible perspective is more descriptive than a completely flat

image. This is where, again, layering comes in. In photography, a

different way of visualising depth and separating image elements from

one another presents itself: depth of field. Positioning elements in

and out of focus is a great way of firstly, describing the level of

importance (an object that is out of focus is not as important as one

in focus), and secondly, creating layering and depths without a clear

perspective in the image.

Breaking the Rules

Now that we know what the rules are, and the reasons behind them,

let's try and break the rules to find exceptions!


How can a photograph without a foreground element work?


A possible solution is using the human figure. Note the photo below.


As you can see, my girlfriend Shruti doesn't need to be in the

foreground at all to allow the eye to perceive depth and a sense of

scale! In fact, she is not even really in the midground.


This is because we are seeing other humans every single day - we

/know/, how our proportions and height play together, and we can

therefore easily determine the rough distance of the human figure to

us. Even without having clear perspective lines in the image, the

trees and bushes in the fore- and midground help determine the

perspective of the lens. This makes the image appear three-dimensional


versus flat and 2D.

Are you always sticking to foreground, midground, background?

When do you deviate away from that formula?


More in-depth articles can be found on my Patreon page:


Stay safe and happy.

Kommentar schreiben

Kommentare: 0