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It’s only natural that when we take photos that our main focus is on the subject of the image however, whether we realize it or not, the background is incredibly important as well.
The overall success of the composition of the photo is heavily dependent on the background. If the background is too distracting then the subject will be lost and will take away from the meaning of the work and if the background doesn’t fit the narrative of the image it can spoil an otherwise well shot subject.
There are many ways that you can improve the background of your photography by taking a few valuable things into consideration. A cleverly chosen or well crafted background will set the entire stage for your photo and can make the difference between a fantastic shot and a wipeout.
Fortunately for you, the photographer, selecting a background that improves your photo is not too difficult and with a bit of practise you can really make it work for you.
How Can You Improve the Background of Your Photography?
The following techniques can improve the background in your photography.
- Try To Keep It Simple: When you are composing an image try to remember that, as a general rule, the subject of the photo should stand out the most. This means that the background shouldn’t be competing for the attention of the viewer. Selecting a background that is not too busy and doesn’t steal the show from the subject of the photo will allow your shots to have the maximum impact on your audiences. Making use of simplicity in the composition of the background will let the subject of your work shine through. Examples of a simple background could include the sky, the ocean or a park. This doesn’t mean that the background has to be plain or monotone and patterns such as waves can really add to the photo; however, the background should never take away from the subject of the photo.
- Fill the Frame – Make the Subject the Star: Sometimes you can avoid the problems of selecting a good background by filling the entire frame with the subject! This may seem like a cheeky work around however in many cases it’s highly appropriate. To fill the frame you need simply zoom in on your subject so that they fill the whole frame of the shot. This removes any distracting effect that the background could have and lets your subject truly be the subject of the shot. This is certainly not a technique that works for every photo however in certain instances there is no better way to achieve the results you are looking for.
- Use Leading Lines to Guide Your Viewer’s Eye: The background doesn’t have to be empty or blank and with some good compositional techniques you can make the background work for you! This means that you can use techniques such as leading lines to use the background to lead your viewer’s eyes to the intentional subject of the shot. Making use of elements such as train tracks, fences or natural lines in the scenery can actually be employed to guide the eyes of your audience to the subject of your photo. Don’t use leading lines that cut directly through the center of your subject but instead use diagonals to shift the attention of your audience.
- Contrast is Powerful: Using a background that strongly contrasts with the subject is a great way to make it stand out. You can use any opposing colors on the color wheel but you can also simply use your own judgement to make the call. A strongly contrasting background will have the effect of drawing your viewer’s eyes to the subject of your work. This simple technique will also add interest and tone to your work. Alternatively you can use the colors of the background to compliment the subject by creating a visually pleasing overall palette.
- Use the Background to help tell the story of the subject: When you’re taking photos you will naturally want to focus on the subject but if you take a step back and view the composition as a whole you can find ways to use the background to help tell the story of your subject. Beautiful scenery or a bleak urban landscape will give the subject a very different ‘feel’ and project a whole different set of moods. In some situations it is better to blur the background or even leave it out, however, in many cases the background can be a powerful part of the photo’s composition. Keep in mind how the background can play a part in the narrative of the photo, create movement and a unique sense of place. The background of a picture can completely change the nature, meaning and ‘vibe’ of a photo and given this is the case you should be trying to use it to good effect whenever you can.
- Blurring the Background: Sometimes you may want to blur out the background so that the subject really stands out and takes center stage. The easiest way for you to blur the background of an image is by using the manual focus options and focusing only on the subject while using a wide aperture. This will reduce the depth of field and give you the results you want. Try starting with an aperture of about f/4 to achieve a blurred out background. This is a good technique to use for wildlife photography, portraits and even abstract and street photography.
- Before You take a Photo Consider the Whole Composition: When you are planning a shot then always take the time to examine the background and calculate how it can work for you. If there are interesting features that you can use to create leading lines in the image then this compositional consideration should be taken into account and put to good use! Check that the background is going to compliment, or even contrast, with your subject to improve the overall effect.
The Background of a Photo is an Essential Part of the Composition that is all too often overlooked.
When you are taking a photo it’s an easy trap to fall into to focus solely on the subject. Of course the subject of any photo should stand out and have a strong presence but it must be included in a well thought out composition that makes the most of every element in the shot, including the background.
Be as creative as you can when you are selecting a background for your subject. In an ideal shot the background will work hand in hand with the subject and help to tell the story of the picture. Never stop experimenting with new ideas, settings on your camera and compositional techniques and you’ll soon find that the backgrounds of your photos are really building on the subject matter and that you’re producing unforgettable images.
Regarding the background, is there a technique that you follow that was not mentioned in this article?