It’s comforting to know that, for the most part, as one grows older, one grows wiser. It comes with maturity, experience and realization. As a young buck, I thankfully never did anything I regret, but there are things I wouldn’t repeat. Again, nothing bad, but given today’s times, I’d refrain from redoing. After all, when it comes to getting a job, one never knows who will be one’s boss. The potential boss has the right and privilege to perform a background check before reaching a final decision as to whether or not a person should be hired. Therefore, one should never do anything where one has to worry about their background.
As fate would have it, I became a professional photographer. My occupation dictates I perform background checks multiple times a day. Not because I’ve accumulated an office staff of thousands, it’s because I want every photo I make to be successful. Therefore, I have to take control of the background. I perform a background check before each and every press of the shutter. It’s with this in mind, I implore all of you to do the same—perform a background check before you make every photo.
Learning how to eliminate background distractions in a photograph is imperative. As meticulous as one can be in composing a perfect subject, if the background isn’t treated with equal care, the end result won’t be successful. But what constitutes a poor background? The cliched example of a tree or telephone pole growing out of someone’s head immediately comes to mind. Yet, sometimes, the interfering elements aren’t as obvious. You can simplify a background by throwing it out of focus, shooting against an unobtrusive background, creating black backgrounds with the use of flash or harmonizing the background with the subject so they complement each other.
Below are three strategies that can be used to control a background in an image. In each example, a specific technique was used to highlight the subject and/or obscure the background. Use these strategies to help you learn how to previsualize what your photos will look like.
Create Your Own Background
When I go into the field to work on small nature subjects, I bring two 20×30-inch sheets of cardboard. One is dark green on which I’ve stroked patches of green and brown acrylic paint. The purpose is to simulate a natural backdrop for photographing flowers, small animals or insects. I place the background far enough away from the subject in conjunction with a wide-open aperture so it becomes a wash of color. The other sheet of cardboard is sky blue in color. I use it to give the effect that the subject is photographed against the sky.
Shoot In The Fog
Fog has many benefits. Images take on mysterious characteristics unmatched by any other quality of light. This essence of light magically seems to compel a photographer’s mind to slow down and appreciate what’s been bestowed. Subjects recede into a wash of gray. It’s this fact that should be exploited.
The background of gray hides many elements that on a clear day would be considered obtrusive. The closer you get to your subject, the more it dominates the photograph while everything else slowly fades into monochromatic mystery.
Fill The Frame
When possible, fill the frame with your subject. The more the subject dominates, the more background is eliminated, which prevents distractions that take your eye away from the primary element. Filling the frame doesn’t guarantee a clean background, so it’s essential you carefully compose the image. Shoot from a different angle if possible. Study the peripheral areas of the viewfinder. Don’t use filling the frame as an excuse to be sloppy. In actuality, composing the photo requires maximum concentration in that the subject takes up so much of the picture area, it’s easy to overlook what’s at the edges.
This is a three-part series, so be sure to check next week’s tip to learn three more ways to perform a background check. You can use these tips alone or in conjunction with the others in the series.
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.