Merge Into The Background

Learn to avoid subject, edge and tone mergers for better images and reduced editing time

An important guideline to follow is to prevent mergers when you construct a composition. Mergers appear when photographers ignore subject overlap. When subjects converge and become one, the viewer of the photo misses out on seeing portions of the subject that are partially hidden. For instance, when two four-legged animals merge, it’s often difficult to differentiate the legs of one subject from the other. This creates a distraction as the viewer has to decipher the composition rather than appreciate it for what it is. Mergers can also occur when a subject appears along the edge of the frame and part of it is chopped off. An additional way mergers appear in photos is when there’s a tonal merger. When like light or dark colors overlap one another, it’s difficult to discern one from the other. Here’s a look at these different mergers to help you avoid them in your photos.

Subject Merger

When important elements overlap, it’s known as a subject merger. The prototypical example that always comes to mind is a tree growing out of someone’s head. Note the image of the photographer with the sandstone formation radiating out the top of his hat. While it may bring a smile, photographically, it’s best to avoid these situations.

In the side-by-side comparison of the two bighorn rams, the left-side image shows the rams overlapping. In the photo on the right side, they’re separated and each can be made out very easily. The reason for most images with merged subjects is the photographer gets easily caught up in the fact that multiple subjects appear in the same frame. Wouldn’t it be great to capture more than one in a single photo. They become blinded by excitement and fire away. I suggest you make a single photo of the merged subjects as it may be the best you get, but then relax and wait for the subjects to separate so both can be recognized as separate entities.

Edge Merger

When subjects are awkwardly chopped into fractional parts of their whole along the perimeter of an image, this is referred to as an edge merger. Edge mergers are a bit more difficult to avoid because while you keep an eye on the main subject elsewhere in the image, it’s not easy to also scan the edges. Your eye must remain very active as you study both the central area and edges.

Sometimes it’s easier to clone edge mergers out of an image. Another strategy is to zoom to a wider focal length and when you optimize the image, crop it so the borders are void of mergers. Avoid going too wide in that you don’t want to sacrifice a lot of pixels, especially if you want to print the photo. Unless the subjects comprise a sufficient amount of real estate, the end result will suffer. In the photo of the three sandhill cranes, I remained cognizant of two potential mergers: I waited for the birds to separate in addition to zooming a touch wider so if they flapped their wings up and down, all parts of the birds would remain in the composition.

Tone Merger

When subjects blend in tonality, which doesn’t allow the subjects to separate, it’s called a tone merger. Tone mergers can occur because color complements overlap in addition to exposure overlaps. For instance, bright on bright makes it harder to distinguish one subject from the other. This also happens when complementary colors overlap. For instance, yellow and orange are adjacent colors on the color wheel and blend into one another in a composition.

In the image of the skylined lion, he pops off the page since blue and yellow are opposite each other on the color wheel. In other photos of him when he was in the grasses, the lion doesn’t pop off the page the way the skylined one does. To get the photo of him on the kopje, we were patient as he looked as if he may want to get to a higher vantage point to hunt.

You’d think it would be easy to avoid mergers, but because photographers are zeroed in on the main subject, details are overlooked. I encourage you to study the entire viewfinder for any and all mergers before you press the shutter. It takes practice and patience, but it will net you better images in the end and your editing time will be cut in half!

To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo to 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 Light͟ 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.