One of the ways to be sure that you have progressed in your photography is to evaluate just how much attention you pay to the background of a scene over and above the actual subject.
At first its not easy as the instant you see something you reach for your camera and fire away. As you progress though you’ll be looking beyond and around your subject to identify the perfect position and angle, not just for light, but for the background.
More often than not, we strive to have as clean and as neutral background as possible. This helps ensure that our subject pops out of the frame with very little distractions pulling the viewers eyes away from where we want them be.
Sometimes its just not possible to achieve and a potential dream shot can be all but forgotten thanks to the background. Take this example of a group of Swallow-tailed Bee Eaters sunning themselves in Botswana during our recent Botswana Wilderness Safari.
This is a scene I’ve only ever seen 3 or 4 times and not once have I been able to get the shot I’d like to. I’ve either been to far away, they’ve been too quick or, as is the case in this instance, the background is just too close and too busy.
For the most part we have very little control over our backgrounds in wildlife photography and thats why we tend to get so excited when that perfect opportunity lines up. Subjects on elevated features in a landscape for example get us properly excited and you can find out my thoughts on why in this post.
That said, there are a number of ways that you can control and make the most of sightings by paying attention to the background.
Try and maximise the distance between your subject and the background. Shooting at a shallow depth of field will help “fade’ out the background every time but the best results are achieved when the background is far away from the subject.
Try and get as close as possible to your subject. The closer you are the shallower your resultant depth of field. Parking further away from a sighting and shooting at between 400 and 600mm will result in a shallow depth of field than if you park closer and shoot at 200mm for example.
Use the light – or should I say shadows – to your advantage. Exposure compensation is a great way to eliminate distracting elements and backgrounds all together if you are able to position your subject in just the right place, leaving a dark shaded area behind your well lit subject.
Photographers always talk about “great light’ but I’m finding myself more interested in the shadows associated with great light and how these can be used to create bolt and striking images full of contrast and intrigue.
You can’t control all of the variables all of the time but, if you are at least aware of the variables at play, I’m sure you’ll find a way to make sure you get the best possible shot on offer.
Share this Post