I have gone back and forth in my mind about the importance of a good background in photography. I have regular conversations with my clients about what type of background they want; urban or rural, color choices, muted or bright colors. I am convinced that lens selection and focal length have a huge impact on the final product and can make the overall background not quite as significant, although a good background can really make an image spectacular.
That being said, most of us don’t live the in the forest of car/building free wonderlands. Photographers are constantly trying to avoid cars, trash cans, even sculptures of naked people in our backgrounds (true story for me). Here are five tips for you to help make the most of the background in your next photo session:
Look for unusual angles.
In the image above, I was wanting to focus on the subjects and the giant, beautiful golden tree behind them. The trouble was there was a 20 foot dirt pile behind them, and I couldn’t figure out a way to not have it in the frame. The solution: I got way, way down on the ground in an unusual angle, and blocked the dirt pile with the long grass in front of me. Look for an unusual angle to block or hide the unsightly pieces.
Zoom in really, really far.
This is utilizing what is called lens compression, where the camera sees the background as closer to the subject when it is zoomed in. This also makes the background have even more of a blurred effect, making your subject stand out even more. In this image, the bush behind the subject was not very big, and we had many other objects nearby such as a shed and a wheelbarrow. I wanted to focus on the little girl and the bush, so I scooted myself really far back and zoomed in a lot, making the bush appear much larger than it normally did in the frame.
White Space is golden.
Normally during a session I try to find interesting places to feature my clients within. I have learned, however, that having just a simple white space can be incredibly powerful. In this image, the kiddos were walking up the hill. I got down on my stomach and created a frame with tons of white space using the open, plain blue sky. What I got back was an amazing piece of storytelling that would be fantastic for an art piece in a home.
I love to play with opposites. When I want to focus on a smooth, silky kiddo face I will often place said kiddo next to a textured wall or blanket. When photographing someone wearing a crazy, textured knitted outfit, I will aim for a smooth planked wall or water. I find if I pair smooth with smooth or textured with textured, the image can sometimes appear muddy. By playing with contrasting elements my subjects will pop against their backgrounds and keep the viewer’s focus where I want it to stay.
Frame Your Subject
It is really, really important to make sure your subject is framed within the background elements. Check for poles coming out of heads, trash cans coming out of elbows, even naked statues peeking over shoulders (again, true story.) Use the background elements to create a frame around your subject, and place the subject in the white space. This creates an intentional composition that looks polished and well thought-out.