There are many factors that contribute to the success of an image. If you're a regular reader of the "Tip of the Week" on the Outdoor Photographer website, you know about my passion to capture subjects in great light. If you've been with me on any of my workshops, you've heard me say, "It's All About the Light" or "I'd rather photograph a mundane subject in great light, than a great subject in mundane light." But light isn't the only factor that can make or break an image. Numerous times I've mentioned the importance of composition, subject choice, mergers, distractions, etc. Also high on this list is how the background impacts an image.
Busy backgrounds, ones that are too dark or too light, those that confuse the subject, ones that have poor color, etc., negatively effect the success of a photograph. Depending on the size of the subject, the light, and how far away the subject resides from a background all determine whether it can be controlled. Darkening a bright one, throwing it out of focus with the creative use of a long lens and narrow depth of field, and placing something behind the subject that complements it, are ways to make the background harmonize with the subject. Another great way to control it, and the focus of this article, is to simply lower your angle to try to get rid of distractions. In other words, "Simply Squat." This is not something many photographers do. When you shoot from a low angle, whatever is directly behind the subject when shot from above is no longer in the image. More often than not, background elements are farther away from the subject when shot from a low angle that results in a background that is out of focus, hence less distracting.
In the pair of wood duck images that accompany this article, the first was made from a standing position. I simply raised the camera to my eye and snapped the image. The angle is not flattering, the background is busy and there’s a lot of clutter. Some of the colors on the wood duck resemble the vegetation, so he tends to become one with it, as opposed to stand out from it. The dark shadow on the left is also a distraction. Even though the subject is interesting, the image is weak. For the second image, I got down on my belly. The differences between the two photos are obvious. The background is cleaner, the wood duck is prominent, the colors harmonize, and the clutter disappears. Psychologically, the duck takes on greater stature in that I’m not looking down on him. It takes little effort to get low and I highly recommend you add this strategy to your outings. For the image of the gosling, I laid prone across the ground and as a result, was able to use the lake water as a clean background.