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Before I press the shutter, there are four conditions I evaluate. In no set order, I determine if the light is right, if the subject is compelling, if the composition has interest, and if the background complements the subject. If the answer is yes to all four, I know I have a winner. If I answer yes to three or less, I may take the picture if what’s before me tells a story. If only two seem strong, I may or may not make the image. But if all four factors are strong, I never leave until I have exhausted all possibilities. One of the ways I do this is to try to alter the background.
To me, the background commands just as much importance as the subject. A great subject shot against a busy background nets a weaker image than the same subject shot against a clean background. The goal is to have your subject stand out from what’s behind it. If the two compete for attention, the image will fall short. The following guidelines will help you achieve the proper look.
Depth Of Field: Depth of field determines how much of the background is in focus. The general rule of thumb is to have it defocused to make your subject stand out or have everything in focus to tell a story. To achieve shallow depth of field, open the lens to its widest aperture, use a telephoto, and place your subject far away from the background. For an image with lots of depth of field, combine a wide angle lens with a stopped down aperture and you have the ingredients.
Look For Colors: Depending on the color of the subject, the background could clash or harmonize. If there’s a conflict in color, change your shooting position to try and offset the subject against an area of different color. Get down low and shoot against a blue sky for a nice effect. You’ll be surprised by how much a small shift to the left, right, up, or down can greatly impact the background.
Prevent Mergers: If parts of the subject’s shape, position, color, etc. blend in with what’s behind it, they become one and create a merger. Mergers are bad in that they make it difficult to differentiate the subject from its environment. If possible, move the subject or change your angle to prevent them..