Clean Backgrounds For Wildlife

Don’t overlook an important facet of the image making—the background
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Whether your pursuit of wildlife photography takes you to Africa to capture the Big 5, Alaska to get shots of migrating caribou, or your backyard for images of butterflies and insects, the thought of capturing the perfect specimen motivates us to continue our pursuit. In this quest, don’t overlook an equally important facet of the image making—the background. Regardless of how perfect the subject is, if the background is busy or competes for attention, the photograph will fall short.

The background shouldn’t draw the viewer’s eye away from the main subject. Distractions may include bright spots that command attention, a dark area where a part of the animal merges and becomes one with it, in-focus elements that draw the viewer’s eye, and areas of strong color that compete for attention. Dependent upon the setting in which the animal is photographed, it may not always be possible to eliminate all of these distractions, but there are ways to reduce their negativity.

Skyline It
Fill The Frame

Fill The Frame: The more your subject fills the frame, the less background will be present. This reduces the possibility of including distracting elements. Use a long lens, move closer if possible, use a blind, or let the subject come to you if it’s safe.

Skyline It: Get down low and shoot up at your subject to incorporate the sky as your background. A clear blue sky makes a clean background and allows the subject to dominate.

Create Your Own: When photographing small animals such as insects, I carry pieces of green, blue, or brown cardboard. I strategically place them behind the subject so they’ll be out of focus. It creates a beautiful wash of color that allows the animal to stand out.

Zoom It And Open It Up: Use combinations of long lenses and wide- open apertures. This will narrow the depth of field. Whatever falls in front and behind the animal will begin to fall out of focus. If the animal is the only element in focus, the viewer’s eye will not be distracted by competing elements.

Move It: Often, a slight change in camera position a few degrees to the left, right, up, or down can have a major impact on what appears in the background. Study the viewfinder and if you notice a distraction, shift your position to eliminate it.


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