Better Backgrounds For Low Subjects

Perform a “background check” on all your subjects before you make that photo

Many factors contribute to the success of an image. If you’re a regular reader of my Tip of the Week, you know of my passion for great light in addition to numerous other factors that determine the photo’s outcome. If you’ve accompanied me on safari, you’ve heard me say, “It’s all about the light” or “exhaust all possibilities” or “monitor your red channel” and more. But these aren’t the only aspects that make or break an image. Numerous times, I’ve mentioned the importance of composition, subject choice, mergers, distractions, etc. A huge aspect that dictates a photo’s success is the background. The background is equally as important as the subject!

Busy backgrounds, ones that are too dark or too light, those that confuse the viewer, ones that have poor or garish color, etc., negatively impact the success of a photograph. Contingent upon the size of the subject, the light and how far away the subject resides from a background, all determine the extent to how it can be controlled. Darkening a bright background, throwing one out of focus with the creative use of a long lens and narrow depth of field or placing something behind the subject, are ways to make the background harmonize with the subject.

Another great way to control it, and the focus of this week’s tip, is to simply lower your angle to try to get rid of obnoxious distractions and make better backgrounds. In other words, simply squat. This is something not many photographers do, so it helps make your images unique. When you shoot down onto a subject on a diagonal, what’s immediately behind it stays sharp. But when you shoot from a low angle, the background elements become farther away so they’re more out of focus. This allows the photographer to throw them out of focus via the use of a long lens and wide-open aperture. When the background is out of focus, it’s not distracting. This allows the subject to come forward and stand out from the wash of color against which its juxtaposed.

A good strategy to incorporate when the composition is made is to crop tightly. The tighter the crop, the fewer potential distractions can appear. Do keep in mind that if twigs and bright spots are still seen through the viewfinder, even with a super-telephoto, the background will show weaknesses. In that case, change your point of view so something else falls behind the subject to make better backgrounds. Quite often a poor background can be minimized when you do get low. If this means laying on your belly, do so. If your clothes get dirty but you get killer shots, not a problem. So always keep this in mind: simply squat to “raise” your image-making to the next level.

To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit to get more information.

Photography is what motivates me to move through life in a positive way. Photography is All About The Light and it’s the first thing I seek out before I press the shutter. Optimally, I pursue great subjects in great light, but if there’s an ordinary subject in great light, I still press the shutter. I love to share the photographic knowledge I’ve accumulated and I hope my enthusiasm is contagious so I can motivate others to feel the same way I do about my photography.