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Seven Great Ways to Control the Photography Background

Much thought goes into photographing an interesting, compelling main subject. In concentrating too much on the main subject though, it’s possible to neglect an equally important part of the photo – the photography background. The background needs to be controlled to achieve a great photo, and in this article, you’ll learn the various ways to do this. So let’s look at the various strategies you can employ.

1. Look to the light in the photography background

The creative use of light is what makes a good photo. That means you need to be in control of this key element. Control this, and your photo should be better for it. In the majority of cases that light is daylight though, of course, there are artificial light sources as well. Those looking to know where the sun is can use a great website called Suncalc, which is also available as an app. So how does this relate to your background? Well knowing where the sun is rising and setting means you can plan for sunset and sunrise skies in your background. Equally, you’ll know when the sun is in the optimum position to light up your main subject properly. Having a poorly lit subject often impacts the background, which is overexposed to compensate for an under-lit main subject.


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One option for the background is to underexpose it. This woman is lit by a strobe to the left of the camera.

Low key photography background

A great choice to control your background, especially for street photography, is to underexpose it relative to your main subject. To achieve this, you’ll need to find somewhere that lets a beam of strong sunlight in, like a gap in the roofing at a market. Now the aim is to photograph your subject in that sunlight, and in so doing underexpose the background by -2 to -3 EV.

2. Things can change with the seasons

The position of elements in the sky, such as the sun, the moon and the milky way, all change with the seasons. Knowing when to visit a location so that the background lines up with your photo requirements is another crucial step to make. Once again, Suncalc can help you here, or for astrophotography, Photopils is a great resource. Good landscape photography takes planning. Some photos are only possible for a few days per year, and you’ll need luck with the weather on those days.

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The Milkyway appearing behind Durdle Door during Spring.

3. Change the angle

Photography is the art of subtraction, and a busy background is an easy way of adding more elements to your frame than you need. A simple change in the angle can avoid such elements as wires or unwanted people in the background of your image. Keep your photo as simple as possible, with your background often needing to be a minimal element of the frame.

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This photo is effective because the background and angle chosen help to frame the model.

4. Use leading lines

Closely related to changing the angle of your photo is using leading lines to your subject from your background. Those lines are a great way to bring the viewers eye to your main subject, thus, making that background an essential element of your photo. A photographers favorite is the use of tunnels, where lines lead from an infinity point to your main subject. Using this gives you more control over your frame and results in a photo with real impact. A shallow depth of field isn’t always necessary when using leading lines, as the lines hold the background together.

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Leading lines and tunnels are a favorite of photographers.

5. Line up foreground and background elements

It’s not just about lining up leading lines and avoiding distracting elements in your background. Particular elements in your background can be lined up to compliment whatever you have in the foreground. An example of this is when your background is blurred out with bokeh. In that background, there can be lighter and darker portions. You can also position your main subject in front of a patch of brighter background to highlight this area, and provide a natural frame.

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The center of the Japanese flag in the background makes and excellent frame.

6. Aperture controls the background

One of the most effective controls you have over the photography background is aperture. What this does is controls the depth of field, allowing you to blur out the background if you wish. Bokeh is the term given to the out of focus portion of an image, often in the background. You can produce bokeh by opening up your aperture, usually on a prime lens. It’s also possible to produce bokeh with a long focal length, as long as the background is some distance from the object you’re focusing on. So controlling the aperture is one of the easiest and most effective ways of controlling your background.

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Background bokeh can be an attractive element of a frame.

7. Textured backgrounds

Another option available to photographers is to use a textured background. Find a background, like a wall, that has a pattern or texture to it. Photography backgrounds that work well include: brick walls, old decaying facades that have one color, or metal shutters that shops use when they’re closed. Chances are, you’ll be photographing a model in this situation, and a clean background works well for this style of photo.

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A natural photography background can also work well. In this example, the grass in the background is blurred out.

What do you look for in a background?

There are many ways to create an excellent background in your image. Which of the suggestions in this article do you like to use? Is there a different way of controlling the background that you like to use? This article aims to make you think a little more about the background of your photo, the next time you go out with your camera. So please share your thoughts, and comments with us. Let’s see some of your fantastic photography backgrounds in the comments section!


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Simon Bond
Simon Bond

is a specialist in creative photography techniques and is well known for his work with a crystal ball. His work has featured magazines including National Geographic Traveler. With over 8 years of experience in lensball photography, Simon is an expert in this field. Get some great tips by downloading his free e-book!
Do you want to learn about crystal ball photography? He has a course just for you! Get 20% off: DPS20.

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