Small Shift = Big Difference

Backgrounds have impact, and a small shift in camera position can equal a big difference in the success of the photograph
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For those who are regular readers of the Outdoor Photographer Photo Tip Of The Week, you know I'm a big proponent of a clean background. I've made mention of it several times in my previously posted tips. Regardless of the size or type of subject, often a small shift in the camera position can make or break a photo relative to what is placed behind it.

The three images that accompany this article all highlight the black swallowtail butterfly. In the first, there is a dark area in the top left corner that is a distraction as it breaks up the smoothness of the out of focus green foliage that creates the background. Its cause is a shadow from a bush. In the second image, I moved no more than a few inches to my left so the entire background would be uniform. The antenna on the butterfly are now more defined and there is no tonality difference in the green area pulling the viewer's eye away from the subject.

Although the second image is an improvement, it's still not what I wanted as the butterfly and the flower upon which it rests merge. This prevents the background from surrounding it. I patiently waited for it to move and when it did, I created the image you see in photo number three. As in photo number two, the background is clean, but the image has the entire butterfly rimmed in a sea of green delineating it more precisely.

Image 1 Image 2 Image 3

Whether you're photographing a macro nature subject, a portrait of a person, a landmark building, a grand scenic, or any other photographic icon, realize that how you portray the background is crucial to the picture's success. On one of my photo tours to the Tetons and Yellowstone, my participants and I encountered eight baby elk that still had their spots - WOW. The encounter took place within a half hour of first light—double WOW. The babies and their mothers didn't spook when we got out of the van—triple WOW. All the animals were within the range of a 400mm lens and the babies were nursing—quadruple WOW.

I only shot a few pictures of the event. "How come you're not making more photos," I was asked. My response was, "Even though everyone wanted to stop and photograph the calves, have a look at the background." The background was fallen sun bleached logs that were brighter than the elk and created chaos and confusion. I kept one of the pictures only to remind me of the wonderful moment that was visual, but not photogenic. Remember—backgrounds have impact and a small shift in camera position can equal a big difference in the success of the photograph!


1 Comment

    I can’t believe it’s the 25th and there are no comments on this article. I am all about Macro. The smallest of differences can really, well like you said ‘”make or break” the picture. I have several pictures of butterflies and can vouch for everything you said here(not that you needed vouching,lol). But in macro, even the hint of wind can also affect the background and of course the subject. Awesome pics by the way, even with the shadow.

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