So you've composed your image to include the athlete, takeoff, and landing. But there's still something missing…. A foreground element to provide depth and give even more location to the image.
Foreground elements can consist of anything closer to you in the photo than the action that's going on. It could be the sides of trees to frame in the image, a little bush, a mushroom, cactus, blades of grass, etc… These elements create more interesting images and add a certain layer of depth.
It's easy to overlook this aspect when there are so many other aspects that you need to be certain are lined up and perfect, but when added, a foreground detail can make all the difference in any image. This is one of those "pro" touches to an image that will make it incredible.
So how do you compose a shot to include a detail like this? In certain situations, the location itself has a unique feature that you want to include in the shot. These are obvious and you just need to compose in a way to include that detail in the front. But oftentimes, there isn't anything particularly exciting to compose around…
This is when you have to improvise. Go low with a wide angle lens and showcase a flower, or a small plant. Zoom through the tree branches or grass for depth. If it's winter, look for angles through the trees, a small snow cornice, anything of interest.
Foreground elements shouldn't overtake the image, however. You want them to add an interesting detail to the image, but you generally still want the initial focus to be on the athlete, unless the foreground feature is the focus of the image. Try to compose in a way that doesn't make the foreground element the first thing a viewer will notice. Use shallow depth-of-field to blur it up a bit, but if you do this make sure it doesn't take up much of the frame. Too much blurry foreground will ruin any image.
So the next time you're out "in the field" lining up that award winning shot for Sports Illustrated or Powder Magazines, think about adding a foreground element to spice things up a bit and create even more amazing images!