Thursday, April 16, 2009

tips for a better background in your photos

When I saw this article at Digital Photography School, I thought it was TOO basic. I mean how hard can it be to find a nice place to take a photo? But then I thought about all the times I've shot a really fantastic photo, only to find a trash can or a random guy in the background. A cluttered or otherwise unintended item in your photo's background can really ruin a shot.

Case in point:

This is one of my favorite pictures from Spain - this is the La Alpujarra region, with these pristine white villages nestled into the mountains. These are blankets that the region is known for - I love the colors and patterns, and how the blankets are all lined up for the eager tourists to check out. But look closely in the bottom left area of the photo - that's right, it's a trash can. UGH.

Sometimes the issue in a background is objects/people that shouldn't be there. Other times, the problem is that there is just so much going on (colors, objects, people, etc.) it takes away from the main subject of the photo. I've also seen lovely photos where trees or poles are protruding from someone's head...

Here is a summary of what you can do to improve the backgrounds in your photos (for the full article click here):

  • Check the background before hitting the shutter button - seems pretty basic, right? It's amazing how often we don't do this. Really look behind your subject to see if there are any distractions - colors, vehicles, random people, trash cans, etc. If you find something distracting in the background, ask your subject to move, or change your shooting angle (lower, higher, etc.) to see if that eliminates the problem area.
  • Work with aperture and focal length - for those of you using a SLR camera, adjusting the aperture and focal length can work to blur the background, thereby minimizing any distractions. Remember that the wider or bigger the aperture (starting around f4 and below), the more fuzzy or blurry the background. Also, the longer the focal length (think zooming out on your lens) the more shallow the depth of field which will result in more of the background being blurred.
  • Place your subject in front of an open area - the open space behind your subject will be blurred by depth of field - if your subject is in the depth of field "sweet spot" if you will, the stretch of open area behind him/her will be out of focus or blurry.
  • Fill the frame with your subject - if your photo consists mostly of your subject, there is less background to contend with. Simple enough.
This lesson might seem too basic, I know, but I equate it to the fundamentals of photography. You can have a fancy pants camera and all the lenses and equipment you like, and none of it will make any difference if you can't compose a decent shot.

So go forth and photograph your children, pets, cars, and so on, with a more simple and less distracting background. I can guarantee you'll be much happier with the results - just as I would have been a LOT happier had that trash can not appeared in my photo...

Any questions - email or leave a comment.