Why should you always keep an eye on your photo backgrounds
Do you have a photo that you found totally amazing until you noticed something in the background that messed it up? If you do, you are not the only one. When photographing a subject, always keep an eye on your background.
It is always wise to have a subject in your photo. When you photograph people or certain objects, it is obvious. But this also applies to shooting landscapes, something that is often forgotten. Always make sure you have a clear subject to capture the viewer’s attention.
But don’t focus too much on this topic. You might miss out on details in the surrounding area that can ruin your composition. Just look at the photo below. Do you notice the tree in the background, just behind the tree in the foreground? Once you notice it, it will piss you off as it shouldn’t be there in the composition.
Because I was focusing too much on the subject, I didn’t notice the tree in the back. The result is a distracting background element that draws too much attention. Once you see it it cannot be invisible.
Pay more attention to the background
When you have chosen a subject for your photo, it goes without saying that you want to frame the subject as well as possible. There are a lot of composition rules to be aware of. You can use guidelines and composition theory for the best shot distribution. I wrote an article about this some time ago here.
If you’re busy enforcing all of these rules, you might forget to look at any disruptive things in the background. At first it doesn’t seem so important. After all, it’s all in the subject. But over time, those less important background elements become more disturbing, especially if they catch your eye at some point.
When you have chosen a subject, you know what to photograph. Stop paying too much attention to it, but see what’s behind it. The examples I gave show a bush or tree in the background that is partially blocked by the subject. You can avoid this by changing your position.
Go left or go right. Perhaps a small step back with a longer focal length to compensate for the relative size of the subject. Or you can change the height for another perspective. Just make sure that nothing in the background is spoiling your publication.
A small change in position can make a big difference
I made a small series of photos to illustrate how the position of the background elements can make or break your photo. The idea is a photo of the twin birch trees with a shallow depth of field. By using a large opening, the trees will be isolated from the background without losing the blooming heather landscape. I used an 85mm lens and an f / 1.2 aperture. The distance to the twin birches was 7 meters, according to EXIF data.
The first photo was taken without paying too much attention to the surroundings. I just focused on the right focus point to make sure the twin birches were perfectly in focus. But looking at the camera screen, I first noticed that the perspective was bad. I should have had a lower vantage point to make sure the twin birches were raised higher above the horizon.
Twin birches attract more attention when the camera position is lower. But notice the tree in the back. Do you see it? If you do, it becomes a disturbing subject in the photo. The problem with these elements is how easily they can be overlooked when composing.
The solution is simple. Just move to the left. This way the relative position of the twin birches and the background tree will change. I only had to move a meter to the left to achieve a better distribution.
But looking at this photo, I can’t find it balanced. There is a certain relationship between the twin birches in the foreground and the tree in the back, I think. The trees are too separated. This is also easy to correct. Instead of a meter to the left, which I did for the previous photo, I only had to move half a meter.
The result is a composition that has better balance. Now the trees are placed in a much better way. I achieved this by knowing what my subject was and keeping an eye on the background to make sure nothing was messing up my composition.
Manipulate the relationship between foreground and background
I always try to keep an eye on the background for my photography. When shooting this knotted willow tree in winter, I noticed how the background passed through the willow tree. Taking a lower vantage point, I was able to elevate the willow tree above the treeline at the back. It was just a small fix, but it’s something that can never be fixed in post-processing.
The photo with the tree line across the willow was taken 58mm from 10 meters away, according to EXIF data. The photo with the tree line under the three willow tree had a focal length of 40mm at a distance of 5 meters. I changed the focal length and distance to have the desired relationship between foreground and background.
Not only for landscapes, but for all kinds of photographs
Although these examples are taken from landscape photos, this technique applies to all kinds of photographic subjects. A good example is portrait photography. You’ve probably seen photos with a model who has a tree rising behind her head. This is a mistake many photographers make, including me. By paying too much attention to the model, you lose sight of the background.
In the following example, it is not a tree growing out of the model’s head, but a sign on the train platform. It becomes distracting once you notice it. But if you are aware of such things in the background, you have the option of correcting them on the spot.
Prevent unnecessary corrections in the mail
Sometimes these errors can be corrected in post-processing. But it can take a lot of time and effort. Why should you make it difficult for yourself when you can prevent these things during filming? Just make sure you keep an eye on the background instead of focusing too much on your subject.
Did you make these mistakes in your photography? Please share your experience in the comments below. And feel free to share other tips to avoid these unfortunate mistakes.