I can’t tell you how often I walk by a seemingly normal location like the one above and envision a portrait there. Luckily I had my children with me this time and I was able to play around a bit and it gave me the idea for this blog post today. It’s amazing to me how differently I see the world with a camera in front of my face! But, it’s a learned skill – and one that you can learn too (even with when using your phone to capture images!).
As you can see in the above photos, paying attention to your background can make a world of difference! The second photo was taken from the car at the same location as the bottom photograph. In that top image, there is so much happening, yet nothing at all . . . it’s boring, partly because there’s too much distraction. But for the picture of my girl, I changed my position so that the background wasn’t so overwhelming and therefore she was able to stand out. It becomes obvious that she’s the main focus and goes from being a cute picture of my daughter on vacation to a portrait of her that I would hang on my wall!
Another thing to keep in mind when composing backgrounds of your images is to make sure there’s nothing awkward or unusual happening. What do I mean by this? Well, sometimes this means there’s people or animals doing . . . weird things in the background (who wants to see a dog pooping behind your kids?? Or an old man picking his nose?) that you don’t notice while you’re framing the picture. This actually happens much more frequently than you might think and is easy to do! But there are other problems you may face in an otherwise well-framed image that can be awkward. Look at the image below and see if you can find anything weird …
It appears as though a tree is coming straight out of the dad’s head! I would guess this is the most common distracting thing that happens – something in the background is growing out of the subject’s head or shoulder or some other awkward place. It can be a tree, or a building, or another person.
Now that you’re learning to pay attention to the backgrounds in the photographs you’re taking, one more simple yet very effective thing to think about is the ‘rule of thirds‘. To practice the rule of thirds, break the photograph into thirds both vertically and horizontally – the intersections of lines are the areas where the focus of your image should be. Most often for portraits, this is the eyes of your subject since that’s where you would naturally look first at a person in real life! Compare these images below – both are great pictures of my boy, but which one are you naturally more drawn to?
Most likely it’s the first picture where his gaze is holding yours and his eyes are toward the upper left point of the thirds. Compared to the second photograph where he is in the center of the frame – although still adorable, it is much less appealing.
The rule of thirds also holds true for images that don’t involve people as well. Take a look at the image below of the cider press. Your gaze wanders around the image trying to take it all in – the foaming cider freshly pressed, pouring into the bin for drinking; the bin slightly out of focus, though not the main part of the story is obviously still meant to be seen. And the grass on the right as negative space to help draw you back up to the press: the main focus and center of the story!
I’ve given you some examples – now it’s your turn! As you go about your day today and are taking photos of your children or nature or whatever catches your eye – be thinking about what your background looks like and try composing your image using the rule of thirds! Then, if you want, I’d love to see some – share them with me here, on Facebook or email them to me!
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