A Viewfinder Darkly

Photography tips and tutorials

How to Use Backgrounds in Digital Photos

July 27 2007

by Philip Northeast

How to make the background in digital photographs enhance your digital camera’s images using the art of composition.

Photographers often ignore the background, concentrating on the subject, and then getting a surprise when viewing the photo. The classic examples of background disasters are trees or posts apparently growing out of people’s heads.

While the human brain is a marvelous thing, it does funny things to the way we see the world. Television and movies work because the brain accepts a series of individual images and interprets them as continuous motion. This ability to filter out and reconstruct the information coming from our eyes is a trap for photographers.

Sponsor's banners

Sponsor’s banners in the background (Pic: www.mclaren.com)

The tendency is to concentrate on capturing the subject, and while the brain concentrates on how the main subject looks, the brain filters out the background. However, the digital camera records everything in its view, without assigning value judgments on its importance to the scene. This is the task of the photographer in the process of composing the image.

Now don’t panic, rather than being a problem, creative use of backgrounds can enhance your images. There are correction techniques available in Adobe Photoshop, but here we are concentrating how to avoid or minimize background issues while taking the photograph, and turning them into positives.

While composing the photograph make a conscious effort to consider the impact of the background, and then choose a shooting position to avoid embarrassing conflicts. Try a different angle, look for a low shot from a kneeling position, or stand on something for a high shot. The LCD screen on digital cameras is ideal for checking the photo after taking the shot, just to double check.

Using the background

Go a step further, and see if the features in the background provide a frame around the main item of interest, emphasizing the subject.

Bridge with mountain

The Bowen bridge with Mount Wellington providing the backdrop

In some cases, the photographer carefully selects the background to complement the main subject. In the photo of the Formula One racing car, the large advertising signs are not there by accident, they are the main sponsors of the racing team. The racing teams public relations people look to buy these photos, then distribute them to the media, hoping to maximize the exposure for their sponsors.

Use the background to create a dramatic emphasis in an image. A long focal length or telephoto lens has a foreshortening effect on the image, making objects seem closer to each other than they are. In the photo of the bridge, a telephoto lens creates the impression of the mountain looming over the bridge adding a feeling of drama and movement to a static scene.

Hide the background

Lilac flower

One common trick is to isolate the subject from the background using a wide aperture setting on the lens to create a shallow depth of field. This blurs the background, separating it from the main subject, and in extreme cases making the background completely unrecognizable.

Go Wide

Choice of focal length is another way of separating a foreground subject from its background, by using short focal length, or wide-angle lens. Objects in the background look smaller than in reality, similarly reducing their visual importance and potential to distract the viewer from the main subject.

Move the Digital Camera

racing sprint kart

Panning, or tracking a moving subject with the digital camera while the shutter is open, hides the background. The subject is clear and sharp while the motion blurs the background.

originally published on  suite101.com


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One response to “How to Use Backgrounds in Digital Photos”

  1. Anguyo Biko Simon says:


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