Photo Tip Friday: Backgrounds in Photography

by Mary Denman                   Twitter: @MaryDenman              Instagram: @MaryFDenman

Backgrounds make a lot of difference in photography. 

While they can show context of the picture, sometimes, they distract from the true focus of the subject. 

Today, I want to show you an incredibly simple technique to play with different backgrounds. This exercise will help teach you 2 things. 

1) How much of a difference the background can make. 

2) How lighting changes as you move an object around, or, as you move around the object. 

Let's get started. 

COLLAGE 1: These are all shots of the same leaf, taken within minutes of each other from the same spot.

Same leaf, four shots
Picture 1) The first shot is just how I saw the leaf. Lying on the ground. The frost on it and the grass caught my eye. The sun is shining on the leaf, from the side. 
(Hint: the shadows tell you which side....the sun is on the left.)

Picture 2) Then, I picked the leaf up by the stem and held it above the ground. Notice how the green grass blurs in the background as the subject (the leaf) is moved further away from it. The sun is no longer shining directly on the subject. But the lighting is uniform so there are no strong shadows. 

Picture 3) Then, I help the leaf up with the sun in the background behind the leaf. This dramatically changes the color of the shot. With the sun directly behind the leaf, the redness in it is pronounced because of the strong light. Also, the sun was low on the horizon so the background also includes trees and sky. But the sky is washed out. Notice the beautiful highlight around the edge of the leaf. 

Picture 4) I held the leaf up to the sky with the sun shining directly on the front of the leaf. The sky was no longer washed out since the sun was behind me. Too, the frost had started to melt. 

I did this simple exercise to show you how to pay attention to your background when photographing a subject, whether it's nature or a person. 

Tip 1: Look beyond your first idea and come up with more ideas for your shot just by paying attention and looking for different backdrops. This can change the mood of the pictures or simplify the background. 

Tip 2: Whether you have a subject that can move, or you move around your subject, you need to be aware of the background and effect the sun has on each location. 

COLLAGE 2: Playing with another leaf. What can you learn from these 3 shots?

PHOTOGRAPHY CHALLENGE: Pick something small that you can hold and photograph easily. Stand in one spot and turn a circle, taking pictures of the object. Notice the play of light and backgrounds in each picture. 

BLOGGING CHALLENGE: How can an idea for a blog post change as you spend time looking at or thinking about at how you're framing it? Will a perspective change make it better or more colorful? 

Hope these tips help!




  1. Lovely leaves and lesson! It is amazing how much difference the background makes.

    1. Doesn't it Kristin? Thanks for dropping by!!