Are you ready for some more tips on composing your images? One thing I have learned over the years, is the importance of watching what is going on in the background. We focus on our subjects, and look at them, but we often do not take into consideration what is going on behind them. In order to achieve a pleasing, technically correct and artistically nice portrait, we need to pay attention to everything in the frame.
1. Watch for objects that appear to be growing or going through your subjects
For example, what if there was a huge tree with limbs hanging behind your subject? What if one of those limbs was behind and looking as if it was going through your subject? Even though your subject is standing far in front of the tree, if you fill the frame with your subject and with the tree, it might look as though one of the limbs is going through your subject. Thus, the importance of watching your background.
In the following image, taken at Hoover Forest Preserve in Yorkville, IL, what do you see "growing" out of one of the subjects? Yep! A tree! I did not pay close enough attention to my background in relation to my subject and volia-the tree looks like it is growing out of the girl's head. If I had positioned them in a different place, or even moved them slightly to the left or the right, I would not have had that problem.
A better subject placement would have been in the middle of the two trees in the background.
2. Ask yourself what part of the background adds to the story of your image?
For example, if you are outside photographing one person, what areas, objects, and/or people are important to the story you are trying to tell? Are you in a busy city and photographing ONE person or your family to document your day there? If so, having some of the buildings, and/or places of interest will add to your story. After all, isn't that what you are trying to document?
On the other hand, if you are wanting only your family and or that one person to be front and center, having the buildings and other objects will just look busy and distract from the story and image.
In the image below, taken at Tracey's in Yorkville, IL, I wanted the focus to be on the objects in the bottom right corner and did not want the people in the background to distract from the subject. So, I used my camera on manual and adjusted my camera settings in order to that. The background is blurred out as to not distract the viewer. The story I wanted to tell had to do with those two objects, not the entire room.
This next image is not mine. I am using it as an example of a busy, distracting background. For example, if you, the photographer, wanted to photograph the person in the middle holding the white bag, and you just wanted the focus to be on her, would you have photographed it this way?
I am not sure of the artist's original intention, but if I just wanted the one person to be the subject, photographing it this way does not work very well. There are many people who are a part of the story that do not need to be. So, placing your subject in a different area is much better in order to have the focus just be on her. Eliminating distractions is important.
3. Where is the horizon in your image?
When you are photographing outside and are in an open field, look to where the sky meets the ground. That line-the horizon-plays an important part in your background and image. For example, when you place your subject, watch where the horizon goes. Does it cut through your subject's head? If so, place your subject somewhere else, and/or move yourself by dropping lower to the ground, or standing higher to eliminate the line through your subject and to create a stronger image.
In the image below, taken at my client's farm in Kankakee, IL, you can see the horizon cutting through my subjects. I should have moved higher and photographed down, or laid in the grass and photographed upwards. In this case, however, I was surprised I got any images at all due to the beautiful dogs running all over! Sometimes, especially when photographing with animals, you just have to do the best you can!
To wrap it up-Watch for distracting background objects and people that do not need to be in the image in order to tell the story you want to tell. Are the background elements important to your story? Include them. If not, move yourself, move your subjects and adjust your camera settings, (if you can) to create a stronger image. Watch for objects protruding, growing, or going through your subjects, and watch the horizon lines. And, sometimes just know that you can only do the best you can in the circumstances you are in!
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