A detective will say, What about his background? An employer will say, Tell me about your previous employment. A doctor will say, Tell me your medical history. Background "checks" are the norm in everyday life-except in photographic composition, (and marriage)! How many couples would even make it to the alter if one or the other spouse first did a thorough background check? Ah, but love is often blind, driven by emotion and passion and that same passion is what prevents so many photographers from recording some really great images.
Amateur photographers are often so taken by the subject before them that they fail to look at the background of their composition. And often times they still cannot see the problems with the background, even after processing the image on the computer.
What causes background trouble? Several things. At times it can be the wrong aperture (resulting in too much depth of field), not paying attention to light (resulting in too much contrast between light and dark), the wrong point of view (resulting in that telephone pole sticking out of your daughter's head). And then there are those jarring tones or shapes in the background that are a disturbing contrast to the focused subject (for example, that out-of-focus background of purple flowers makes for a disturbing tonal contrast when seen behind the bright red tulip).
The solution is a simple one, really it is! Get into the habit of asking yourself EVERY time (and before pressing the shutter release) "Does my background help or hurt the foreground focused subject?" Before long, this question becomes such an integral part of the shooting process that many students report that they actually spend time looking for the perfect background FIRST!
PHOTOS-My daughters and I had just returned from sledding at the nearby park, when my eyes caught site of some frozen icicles hanging off of the gareden hose.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out my Leica D-Lux 4, making the quick snapshot you see here. Clearly, the image you see here is a 'mess' and by a mess I mean that my one lone hanging piece of garden hose and icicles IS getting some serious competition from the background; competition from all of the other "lines" to be even more specific. The additional curvilenear lines from the garden hose and the horizontal lines from the siding of the house create a chaotic and confusing composition. All of this background confusion and chaos is akin to trying to watch and listen to the television reporter, reporting live from the scene, yet having to put up with the young kid in the background who is jumping up and down, waving his arms furiously, hoping to get his three seconds of fame.
I returned to the house and from the guest closet I grabbed the large red Christmas wreath box and unfolded it and placd it behind the lone piece of garden hose and icicles. I felt that I was now ready to make a much more compelling image.
Hand-holding my Leica D-Lux 4, I was able to compose that much stronger composition as this image shows. Gone is the confusing background, resulting in an image with far more impact, thanks to nothing more than a large red unfolded box. *Leica D-Lux 4 at 5.1mm, (effective 24mmm in 35mm terms) at f/4 at a 1/30 second with ISO 200.
And finally, when is the best time to shoot a vertical composition? Right after you shoot the horizontal composition! *Leica D-Lux 4 at 5.1mm, (effective 24mmm in 35mm terms) at f/4 at a 1/30 second with ISO 200.
*Unlike my 'bulky Nikon D-300, the little Leica D-Lux 4 (not much bigger than a pack of Marlboro 100's) offers up a host of valuable reasons why you might consider buying one for yourself! If you love macro, you will love its ability to focus down to 1/3 of an inch at the wide angle focal length. And speaking of focal lengths, it offers up an effective 5.1-12.8 zoom lens, (35mm equivalent is 24mm-60mm) and captures a 10+ mega-pixel file each and every time. In addition, it offers up the wide aperture of f/2 when shooting at the 24mm angle and f/2.8 when shooting on the 60mm end. That's fantastic news when shooting in low-light and/or when you forgot the tripod. Of course it offers up Aperture, Shutter, Program Modes BUT also full manual exposure and even manual focus! I love this camera! The only downside is that it's not cheap, ($865.00) but than it wouldn't truly be a Leica if it were! To learn more about this camera, click the link below.
Happy Shooting Everyone!
Bryan F Peterson/Founder