On The Importance Of Background Checks

I don’t believe I’ve done any tutorial posts on this blog.  Mostly because I still feel like I’m learning something new every day.  Understand, I’ve been doing photography for a very long time now.  I’m old school, I’ve processed & developed film, developed color prints in a color darkroom, had my work in multiple shows.  I’ve studied, and worked hard to hone my craft.

I didn’t just wander into the camera section of Target and decide to take up photography.

That said, it’s a whole next level from knowing something enough to do it yourself, to knowing something well enough to teach others.  Don’t believe that “Those who can’t do, teach” crap.  The best teachers know their stuff a hundred times better than those who simply “do”.

I’m still not sure if I can teach how to take a decent photograph.  But today I’ll share some tips with you about how not to screw it up so much.

One word: backgrounds.

In my opinion, photographs are ruined by crappy backgrounds more than any other factor.  Bad lighting, missed timing, they’re nothing compared to a bad background.  And it’s such an easy thing to fix.  You don’t need a pro-level camera and a thousand dollar lens to make good choices about your background.

Here’s a comparison: look at this picture of a boss Mach 1:

Ford Mach 1

This was taken with my always trustworthy Canon A1000 Powershot point and shoot camera.  If you’ve been around car shows at all, you’ve seen this shot.  Heck, you’ve probably taken this shot.  There are a lot of things we can talk about here, but for me, what totally ruins this shot is the background.  First, there are about a dozen cars randomly strewn around back there.  Then, as always with car shows, you’ve got people just milling about without any purpose in your shot.  In short, everything behind the subject is a distraction.

Now, how about this, taken at the same show with the exact same camera:

1932 Ford 2

That is a 100% better photograph.  Here’s some of the choices I made:

1) Isolate your subject.  The biggest question you have to ask yourself is, “What am I taking a picture of?”  Whether it is a person, a building, a cat or a car, you need to make sure you understand what the focus of the photograph should be.  That doesn’t mean that it has to be in the dead center of the frame, but it does mean that you need to do whatever you can to reduce or take away anything that will distract the viewer from your main subject.

2) Change your point of view.  Most photos you have ever seen were taken from an eye-level perspective.  Boring, boring, boring, boring.  Try getting down a bit.  This should also help you isolate your subject by reducing the view of what’s behind your subject.  And, it’s a good way to get a unique perspective.

3) Try to find connections between the foreground and background.  Take a look at the first photo again.  As I said, there is no connection between the car and the background.  Now, take a look at the second.  Both cars have bright, warm colors, both have shiny chrome and both have the similar curves of the fender and the grill.  Here, there are a number of things that connect the foreground and the background.  Obviously, much of the time when you are out shooting you cannot control the placement of things, but you can walk around and look to see what’s what.  Sometimes connections are right there, and sometimes it takes an effort to see them.  But if you work at it, you can usually get something that compliments your subject rather than distracts from it.

4) Be patient.  I can’t emphasize this enough, especially if you are shooting in a public place.  People will often wander into your shot.  If you can, if at all possible, wait until they wander right back out again.  A great photo can last a lifetime, it’s worth it to wait a few minutes to make sure you get it right.

Remember friends, it’s important to check your backgrounds.

Here endth the lesson.







6 thoughts on “On The Importance Of Background Checks

  1. Good point on the car shows. I have a lot of pictures I took at eye level that I wish I could go back and take again.

    And with the background, sometimes you can’t get it nice and clean, but sometimes framing the subject so the background isn’t so obvious helps.

  2. Pingback: 7 Websites That I Go To Frequently* | Generator Photography

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