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.
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.
The second photo certainly works much better. My aim was to document the spikes and I am happy with the result.
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.
- Watch your background carefully
- Try to eliminate distractions
- If necessary create your own background