Control Your Background

Photo by Bennie Davis


Photo by Bennie Davis

One common mistake that new photographers make is to focus too much of their attention on the subject and not enough on the background.

I saw the above image the other week on National Geographic.  It struck me as an amazingly well composed photo.  The obvious point of attention here is the clown.  Capturing him in a moment of reverence would be a great picture, but it wouldn’t tell the whole story.  (was he at a clown funeral)?  However Davis pulled in the background *just enough* to complete the story.  Immediately you knew this was a rodeo clown.

Being able to “see” that picture prior to looking through your camera takes practice.  But for now, I wanted to share a couple of tips that should help improve your photography right away.

Few things can be more distracting than lines intersecting with your subject.. specifically their head.  Numerous photos are ruined by a tree, pole or building in the background apparently growing out of someone’s hair.  The fix is usually a very small shift to the left or the right by the photographer.  Lateral horizons commonly intersect heads as well and can cause a photo to feel unbalanced.


OUCH!  photo by Norris Wong.

If you consider the background each time you look through the viewfinder, it will lead to better photos.  Look for negative space like leaves and clouds to isolate subjects.  Or attempt to pull in a building or sign as a reference point.  By all means, try to avoid undesirable things like garbage cans and traffic.  Recently I saw wedding pictures and half of them had the parking lot in the background.  NO EXCUSE FOR THAT!  Typically, the subject will take care of itself, the background however, that’s your job.  Move around, get low, get up high, shift left and right..  Lots of new shooters turn into a statue when they put the camera to their eye.  Ironically a simple change of perspective can really make a picture unique.  Try photographing children from their height or lower and you’ll be surprised how ordinary your “adult eye level” shots look in comparison.


I also encourage you to really notice photography. When you see a photograph that you like; try to identify what you like about it.  Is it the lighting, colors, perspective, or subject placement?  Once you know what makes a picture pleasing to look at, you’ll be better equipped to improve your own work.

I promise that over your next few months of shooting, you will (at least once) look at your LCD and see an image that you never thought you’d be able to produce.

Get out there and shoot something!

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