Why choosing the right background is important in nature photography
In general, a nature photograph is composed of the subjects, the foreground, the negative space, and the background. The background is usually present, except in close-ups. In that case, the background merges with the surroundings or the negative space.
In nature photography, particularly in wildlife or landscape photography, the background has an essential function: it highlights the points of interest in a photo.
The choice of a framing and a point of view
For a photograph to have a good background, the scene that you want to photograph should be well defined. A photographer must think about the composition of his photo. He must immediately decide on the points of interest and the relationships that he wants to establish between them.
Next come the choices of a framing and a good perspective. These will help to create a beautiful background.
Points of interest are not enough
Many beginning photographers mistakenly think that the presence of a strong point of interest is enough to create a good photo. In their minds, a beautiful animal or an interesting animal behavior is enough to attract the attention of the viewer. We often say that that will be true the day when someone photographs a flying saucer. A beautiful subject with a neglected background results in a bad photo.
Avoid unnecessary details
A background should not have details that will catch the eye of the viewer. It just needs to highlight the important points of interest by providing contrasting lights or colors. The background should always be as simple as possible.
The background can be chosen either by choosing a framing or by choosing a suitable point of view, following the guidelines laid out in the articles about these two processes.
Do not include damaged items
We recommend choosing the background carefully in nature photography. We recommend that you avoid including damaged or flawed elements in a photograph. The background highlights points of interest, and everything about it must contribute to doing this.
Blurry and sharp backgrounds
A background can be either blurry or sharp. As discussed in another article, a blurry background is similar to a bokeh. The bokeh helps to focus the viewer's attention on the points of interest in the photograph and does not seek to divert it to the rest of the scene. A blurry background helps to strengthen the picture.
A sharp background is used to accentuate the width of the scene. The viewer will turn his attention to the bottom of the photo first because he is drawn to the background. A sharp background clearly defines the negative space. It helps the photo to breathe. It is very useful for creating space between the different points of interest.
Manage the horizon
If the horizon is part of the background, the photographer must make sure that the heads of living subjects in his photo are not below the horizon. If this happens, he must move his point of view down a bit to make sure that the subject’s head is above the horizon.
In general, the heads of living beings in a photo should be placed above the horizon in order to highlight them.
Separate the subject from the background
The points of interest in a picture should be clearly separated from the background. For example, the head of a deer or a bird should not be in front of a tree. It is better to put it in front of the sky. The more the points of interest are visible, the more they will attract the viewer’s attention. Again, the photographer must not hesitate to change his point of view if necessary.
Avoid overexposed areas in the background
Areas in the background that are more exposed than the points of interest are a problem because they will distract the viewer. His attention will inevitably be attracted to these light spots. Again, if this happens, the photographer should change the framing or point of view.
This also applies to backgrounds whose colors are brighter than those of the points of interest. The viewer will be distracted by these areas.
Generally, a background must have neutral lighting and colors. It should not compete with the points of interest in the photo. The background should not distract from the points of interest. It should emphasize them.
Swapping out the background during post-processing
It is always possible to swap out the background of a photograph during post-processing. For this, we recommend using photos with the same lighting to avoid affecting the general atmosphere of the photo.
For example, in wildlife photography, once a place for the blind is chosen, however good it may be, the animal may not be in exactly the place that you planned. In this case, it is a good idea to take some pictures before the animal appears, then take pictures of the animal. That way you can swap out the background with software.
The purpose of a background in a photo is to highlight and enhance the points of interest of the photo. Often photographers achieve this using contrasting lights or colors. But this is not enough to create a good background, because unnecessary details or overexposed areas can still ruin the photo by attracting the viewer’s attention. Choosing a good framing and a good point of view are still essential to keeping only the essential elements in a photograph.