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Why and How: 7 Steps to Choosing the Right Background

When you face a scene in nature that you wish to photograph, you must pay attention to the main subject, the balance of masses, and the elements that reinforce the reading. Most of all, you must be careful with the background.

In this article, I will list seven important steps to follow when choosing the right background for an interesting photo.

Landscape of Gironde Estuary in Charente-Maritime in West of France.
Landscape of Gironde Estuary in Charente-Maritime in West of France.

Why Does Background Matter?

A photograph generally consists of several areas. It contains a foreground, a negative space, and a background. The background is present in most cases, except in very close-up shots.

In nature photography, particularly in wildlife or landscape photography, a background has an essential function: it highlights the points of interests in a photo.

How to Choose the Right Background

To capture the perfect background for a photograph, you must first define your scene. You must think in terms of composition, and immediately recognize your points of interests as well as the relationships you wish to establish between them.

Your perspective and choice of framing will allow you to create a beautiful background.

Outlining Points of Interest Is Not Enough

Many beginner photographers mistakenly think that a strong presence of the points of interest is enough to create an interesting photo.

They believe that a beautiful animal or a behavioral scene is enough to attract attention. During my workshops, I often say that this will be true when someone photographs a flying saucer.

However, for now, a beautiful subject on a neglected background will cause the image to appear as a poorly planned picture. It will simply be uninteresting.

The following seven points detail simple techniques that you can use when obtaining a good background for your nature photographs

Point 1: Avoid Unnecessary Details

A background should not have details that will unnecessarily catch the eye of the beholder.

A background merely needs to highlight important areas of interest by light contrast or by color contrast. Details are not needed.

A background should always be as simple as possible.

Consider the framing and point of view when you choose the background. I have described the important themes of framing and point of view in previous articles.

Point 2: Do Not Include Damaged Items

My best advice for you for choosing the right background in nature photography is to avoid including damaged or items of poor condition. You do not want to divert attention from the main subjects to a background containing unnecessary details.

The purpose of a background is to illuminate the central points of interest, not create additional distractions.

Point 3: Blurry or Sharp Background?

A background can be either blurry or sharp. As I described in another article, a blurred background is akin to the creative technique of bokeh.

Bokeh allows a viewer's attention to be focused on the photographic points of interest without diverting to the rest of the scene. The blur makes it possible to present stronger photos.

A clean background accentuates the grandeur of the scene. The viewer will not look at the background, but he will be attracted by the space.

A clear background allows the viewer to clear the space, helping the photo to “breath” through the points of interest.

Point 4: Manage Well the Horizon

If the horizon is present in the background, you must make sure that it does not overlap with the heads of the living subjects in a scene. If this is the case, you should take a slightly lower-angle view so that the head is placed above the horizon.

In general, the head of a living being must be placed above the horizon. This highlights the figure and creates a sense of importance.

Point 5: Separate the Subject from the Background

The photographic points of interest must stand out from the background.

For example, the head of a deer or a bird should not be in a tree. It is better to place it in the sky. The more visible the photographic points of interest are, the more the viewer is attracted to them.

Again, do not hesitate to change your point of view.

Point 6: Avoid Exposing Background Areas

Areas in the background that are more exposed than the points of interests are a problem because the viewer's eye will be distracted. His attention will inevitably turn towards these lights. In this situation, you should change your framing or perspective.

This also applies to a background whose color is more garish than that of the points of interest. The eyes will be distracted by these areas.

In general, a background should be neutral in terms of lights and colors. It must not compete with the points of interest.

A background should not distract but should highlight the subjects.

Point 7: Change the Background Through Post-Processing

It is always possible to change the background of a scene through post-processing. I recommend that you take photos with the same lighting so that the general rendering of the mood is not altered.

For example, once you have chosen your hidden position for shooting wildlife, it is possible that the animal may not be present exactly where you want it within your frame. In this case, I advise you to take some photos before its appearance or expression changes, and then edit the position later against the background using post-processing software.

Finally

The purpose of a background in a photo is to highlight the points of interests in a scene.

I advise you to proceed by contrasting the lights and colors. Nevertheless, it is not enough to only contrast, you must be aware of superfluous details or overexposed areas, both of which can ruin a photo. They will capture the eye of the viewer. The choice of good framing and a good point of view are essential for choosing the right background.


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