There are many
situations where you have a great subject (often birds or animals)
and the main subject is fine but
the background ruins the whole picture. We think it is quite
natural to concentrate on the main subject, as this is what we
capture. In doing so we often pay too little attention to the
background. Once the scene is frozen into a photo, a busy or
will later grab your attention and become an irritation.
very useful technique is to get the background out of focus.
Unfortunately this does not help all the time.
Here is an example
where the background is blurred but it is still not enough
for a nice photo.
Mantled Ground Squirrel (Mammoth)
You probably agree that
the squirrel is in a lovely pose (one frame from a larger high
speed series) but the busy background ruins
it. In this case we use Photoshop to rescue the photo by blurring
and darkening the background.
We did not even try to do a perfect job here but still the image
improved because the viewer concentrates now on this cute animal
and not on its background.
We love pelicans and they are so beautiful in flight. But, again,
many shots are ruined by a boring white or blue (even blurred
and out of focus does not help). That is why we prefer the next
No Photoshop help was needed this time! The pelican was photographed
from a Pacific Beach against green Cypress trees at a steep
cliff and the natural out-of-focus blur of the lens (Canon
DO) solved the background problem.
We mentioned that a boring
white or blue background could make images far less exciting.
Does this mean you should never do
that? As with all compositional rules, it is important to note
are always exceptions.
In this case the bright background allows the
viewer to concentrate on the amusing scene -- a Snowy Egret mother
with its chick
balancing on a wire. We doubt whether a darker background
would have helped
Unfortunately, while we take pictures we have
to watch many things and sometimes we find ourselves under
moment. Never the less, watching the background is one
of the more important
things we need to do as photographers.
How can we improve?
• Try to use more open apertures to better blur the
background (f/5.6 for example)
• Use a longer focal length lens
Most importantly change the vantage point – move around
your subject until the background works!
• Use Photoshop only as a final resort (we actually very rarely use
this help for background blur, probably two photos in our
entire portfolio have gotten this treatment)
Avoid taking the kinds
of shots that you will later have to ‘fix’ in
Photoshop. Remember the adage, garbage in, garbage out. Get
in the habit of fixing the background before you even press the
Your images will be better for it.
This article was written for the spring issue of www.f8andbeingthere.com.
This is the first issue of this magazine where we joined as contributors.
Special thanks to our friend Dr. Ellen Rudolph for getting us involved.