Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ideas For Composition: Backgrounds

*This is the fourth in a series on "Ideas For Composition". (1) Framing (2) Diagonals (3) Negative Space (5) Multiples.

To Sunbathe With The Flowers

Often, the objects in the background of a photograph either enhance or destroy a photograph. In the image above, I deliberately placed the waterfall from the nearby fountain in the background. I also adjusted my shutter speed longer to give the water a softer feel.

The first step in effectively using your background is to PAY ATTENTION to it in the first place. Rather than randomly snapping the image, look at what is there. The second step is as easy as moving your feet. When the background is either too distracting, or if there is an object I want to include in the image, I can adjust for either circumstance by walk left or right, standing up taller, or squatting down lower. In the following image of a mute swan, I put myself at her eye level, this raised the city buildings to be directly behind. This eliminated there being too much sky.

Mute Swan

"Too much" is a common reason for creating a better background in a photograph. Previously, we talked about negative space, and negative space can be used well. However, there are times when "too much" is just "too much" and it harms the photo instead. We do this all the time with landscape images through the use of telephoto lenses. This next image is a small section of a larger scene that included telephone poles, wires, and a gas station. In effect, I "zoomed in" and eliminated all of that as it would have definitely detracted from an otherwise beautiful scene.

Rural America

The final decision towards having an attractive background involves a question. Do I want more or less detail? There are times when more detail, through the use of a smaller aperture, is needed. At other times, as in the water lily image above, the suggestion of an object is enough. I can choose the effect by adjusting my aperture. Always remember, the larger the aperture the less depth of field and therefore the more blurred areas there will be.

Fall Maple


When you think about it, your background is always there. So use it to move your photograph from an ordinary, "blah" scene into one that is much more appealing to the viewer.

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Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

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