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Don’t Forget to do a Background Check - Photography Composition Techniques

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 3/12/2012

A common mistake and something a lot of people don’t consider when taking photographs is their subject’s background. People tend to focus on their subject, making sure that it is exactly the way they want it, while ignoring the background. This can be a recipe for disaster. Read on to learn more.

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    This article belongs to a series of photography composition techniques. To start from the beginning, please refer to The Big Picture – Photography Composition Techniques.

    A background can either make or break the overall result of a photograph. The right background can compliment your subject just as a fine chardonnay can compliment your duck a la orange. Conversely, the wrong background can pull a viewers attention away from the point of interest, distracting them and taking all the “flavour" from the photograph.

    Unfortunately, photographs present us with images in 2D, rather than 3D. This is something worth taking into consideration. Let’s imagine that you want to take a picture of your daughter in front of a tree. To your naked eye, it looks like it will be a nice photograph so you ask her to smile and take the shot. Upon viewing the photo, you realise your horrible mistake. Instead of having a nice picture, the result is that your daughter looks like Medusa having a bad hair day. Since the photo is in 2D, the tree’s branches look like they are protruding from your daughter’s head, rather than the way you saw it when taking the photo. First lesson: objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are. What if you really want a picture of your daughter with that tree? All is not lost. Consider changing your position and shooting from a different angle. Problem solved.

    The second thing to take into consideration is distractions in your background. You don’t want the focus to be taken away from your subject or point of interest by unnecessary objects in the background. Before taking your photo, check your background to be sure there are no people that shouldn’t be there, colours that clash with your point of interest which will pull the eye from your subject or any other object that just doesn’t belong.

    When you view the following picture, you’ll see the woman and then your eyes will most probably move to the people in the background right after. If those people weren’t there, your focus would stay on the point of interest.

    Photo by PoYang

    photography background 

    If your background doesn’t compliment your point of interest, consider:

    • moving your subject into a more appropriate position
    • waiting for the background to become more suitable (people getting out of the way, for example)
    • changing your position and shoot from an alternative angle
    • filling your frame with the subject, eliminating the background completely

    If all else fails or if there’s an irreplaceable photo you’ve taken in the past that you wish you took after reading this article, you could consider photo editing software to touch up those photos and bring life back to your main point focal point.

    Photo by P/\UL

    background example