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Composing Better Backgrounds in Photography

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When many photographers look through their camera’s viewfinder they visually filter everything out but the primary subject.

At first this may sound like a good idea, but what often results photo compositions with unwanted background elements that ruin the shot and frustrate the photographer.

When composing photos its equally important to pay attention to the background as you do to the main subject.

By thinking about the whole frame before you snap a shot you’ll end up composing a better background and capturing photos you’re happy with.

To help you learn what to look for we’ve outlined some tips below on how to compose better backgrounds in photography.

Eliminate Distractions

As you look through the viewfinder take note of everything you see around your subject.

This will help you find distracting elements that otherwise would have been ignored.

If you see any shapes or objects in the background that intersect oddly with your subject recompose your frame to avoid them. Often, it only takes a minor adjustment of shifting your camera’s position by tilting up or down, panning left or right, or zooming in closer. Good backgrounds are ones that are clean and free of contrasting elements.

Notice in the photo on the left how distracting the clothes hangers are in the background. It competes with the subject. This is easily fixed by zooming in tighter to eliminate the distraction. Photo by mharvey.mc

Use Shallow Depth-of-Field

Sometimes you may find that you can’t eliminate all of the distracting elements in the background of your photographs.

No matter how you reposition your camera these elements still show up.

The best way to fix this photography composition problem is to blur the background by using a larger aperture. A large aperture creates shallow depth-of-field.

By setting focus on your subject the background will fall out of focus and remove the distractions while at the same time bring full attention to your subject.

In the original scene of this photo the background had a lot of distracting elements. To fix it a larger depth of field was used to blur the background. Photo by Lessfeet

Include More of the Background

Instead of trying to eliminate distracting elements in the background by repositioning or using a larger aperture you could also try to include more of it.

This can often lead to a great looking photo and is a great composition trick to use when you are photographing someone in a visually distracting place – like an office building or busy sidewalk.

Including more of the background when composing a photograph can also help give the viewer a sense of location for the photo and communicate a better story.

Instead of fighting with the background for these engagement photos the photographers chose to use the background to compliment the compositions. A sense of location helps bring life to these photos that a closer composition would not. Photos by Tugnutt and seng1011

5 Comments

  1. […] Composing Better Backgrounds in Photography – a great tutorial that gives the reader some great tips on how to compose a shot with a great background.  This short and easy-to-read article delivers some great ideas on how to come home with the perfect shot, well worth the time to visit and read. […]

  2. Joe Baraban

    January 27, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Great article on “composing better backgrounds”!!! I couldn’t agree with it more. I recently wrote a post to my blog that addresses the same issue. I called it “The Whole Enchilada”.

  3. Bogdan

    January 29, 2012 at 2:21 am

    Umm… I can’t see any photos. Sorry. The post mentions them, give credit and links to their creators, but the photos themselves are missing…

  4. admin

    January 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    Sorry for that. Not sure what happened but the photos for reference are now back!

  5. The Coolest Photography Links Of The Week

    January 29, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    […] Composing Better Backgrounds in Photography – a great tutorial that gives the reader some great tips on how to compose a shot with a great background.  This short and easy-to-read article delivers some great ideas on how to come home with the perfect shot, well worth the time to visit and read. […]

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