03 March 2010

Behind the photo: Mind the Background

When I shoot digital, it's with a borrowed point & shoot. Since I can't stand the off-kilter framing that results from parallax, I frame my shots using the display screen. The catch is that it's often harder to see what's going on in the background, the area that often determines where on the scale of bad to great a photo falls.

One way of training yourself to notice the background is to stay still right after you've taken a shot to look at the frame you just took again. With digital, you could actually look at the image, but for me that breaks the flow of shooting, so I just pause, visually scan the frame again for things I might not have noticed the first time, and adjust if necessary.

In this photo there's a lot of sticks, a tree trunk, an xmas tree decoration, and a rock in the background detracting from the snow on the railing.

Some of this can be mitigated with cropping, but not much:

A better approach is to find another angle. Below I'm shooting the same corner of the railing from a second story window. I lose the nice line running into the lower right corner shooting from the high angle, but the background is free of dark objects:

A slight crop draws focus to the snow on the rail and away from the competing animal tracks on the ground. It's not perfect, but it's much improved.

You could use Photoshop or other image editing software to address these issues, but I aim to get the shot I want at the scene as much as possible. That's my forte rather than digital image manipulation.

All that aside, snapshots (which I consider the shots above) are fine. Sometimes you just want to capture how the snow looked accumulated on the posts.

Three years ago on TTaT: Present, meet past


  1. Interesting! If you would have just shown the contrasting photos and said you didn't manipulate them, I never would have guessed where the second one was taken from!

  2. It's cool how similar the foreground framing is even though I'm about 20 feet higher in the second photo.