Create your own background

Distracting background

Selecting a good background is extremely important in photography. Nothing is worse than a great subject (let’s say your partner or kids) in front of a really busy scene. It’s like trying to listen to a beautiful song when there is a ton of annoying background noise (cars, jackhammers, sirens). Luckily, as photographers, we do have choices, i.e. we can change the background in many cases.

The big freeze

A few weeks ago, I stepped outside my house in the morning and found an amazingly beautiful winter scene. Dense fog combined with subzero-temperatures had turned our hometown into a white wonderland. Trees were covered in bizarre ice crystals. It was a great opportunity to take some photos. Sooner than later, I found out that this was anything but easy. The background was quite distracting and white patches camouflaged interesting parts of the photos. I tried various angles to ‘patch’ the background, but it was impossible for me to find a composition that would allow me to show the crystals in their entirety. There was too much distraction.

Distracting Backround
That was the best I could do. Notice how the white spots hide the spikes.


BYO looked like the ideal strategy in this case (bring your own). My kids had left a few colored papers on the kitchen table and I grabbed those to create a clean background which would create enough contrast to let the spikes shine. I simply took the paper and held it behind the leaves.

Custom background
A simple sheet of colored paper provided a clean background

The second photo certainly works much better. My aim was to document the spikes and I am happy with the result.

Lesson learned

This was a fun exercise! I had actually never done that before. Bryan Peterson’s excellent book “Understanding Composition Field Guide: How to See and Photograph Images with Impact” provided me with the idea of trying this. For some reason, I had always thought that photographers should not interfere with their environment. But honestly, why not use a ‘cheat sheet’ of paper to create a clean background.

Lessons learned:

  • Watch your background carefully
  • Try to eliminate distractions
  • If necessary create your own background


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