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How to handle backgrounds in photos

Created date

November 25th, 2014
white card as background behind subject in photo
white card as background behind subject in photo

The best background in a photograph is a simple background, one that draws attention to the main subject. It should not divert attention from the most important element in your photo, such as a person, a flower, a pet. Unless you’re shooting someone in front of the Grand Canyon or the Taj Mahal, the emphasis of your photo should be on that person.

Try not to photograph people in front of a cluttered background. Automobiles or people in the background are generally not of interest and compete for the viewer’s attention. Vibrant background colors can sometimes distract from the main focus of your photo as well. Be conscious of lampposts growing out of heads! 

Getting rid of background clutter

The cure may be as simple as saying, “Please move three steps to the left.” Or, you can move three steps. If that’s not possible, you can wait until the people in the background move away.  Sometimes you can crop out clutter by moving closer to your subject or zooming in with your lens. Here’s a trick professionals use: When taking close-ups of flowers, insert a piece of white paper or black cloth behind the flowers to isolate them from the background. This is where best friends can be useful.

If you cannot avoid a cluttered background, change it in this manner: Move back from your subject and use a telephoto lens which will put the background out of focus. The longer focal length of the lens creates a shallow depth of field, blurring the background to varying degrees. This helps simplify the image by making your subject the main focus. However, a long focal length lens is susceptible to camera shake, so be sure to hold the camera steady.

Be creative when looking for nonintrusive backgrounds. Find a door that has some character to it. Look for a large bush or a plain wall. I’ve shot informal portraits with the subject in front of forsythia in full bloom. The bush filled the entire background forming a solid, colorful backdrop.

Be conscious of keeping the background simple. This will help put the focus of your photo where you intend it to be.