Watch Your Backgrounds by Kristen Smith

Watch­ing what is going on in the back­ground is use­ful advice, not only for cops in urban shoot-outs, but also for close up and macro pho­tog­ra­phers.  Because bokeh and depth of field are such promi­nent aspects of these types of shots, you really have to watch the back­ground to make sure it com­ple­ments your sub­ject and doesn’t com­pete with it.  Some­times I get so focused on the sub­ject itself that the back­ground just fades away.  And because often times a sub­ject is far away from the back­ground, things just don’t get noticed.

With this shot, I was so intensely involved with the flow­ers that I didn’t really “see” my back­pack which was about 4 feet away and clearly in view.  I really needed to stop and look at the whole scene, but I didn’t.  Some­times it can take a few min­utes to set­tle into the groove and start prac­tic­ing good habits and by the time I got dili­gent, it was too late for this one.

Pho­to­graph by Kris­ten Smith

In addi­tion to watch­ing the far back­ground, keep an eye out for stray items close to the sub­ject that might dis­tract the eye.  So many times I get my pic­tures home only to find some annoy­ing leaf, pine nee­dle or branch.  Ugh.  I find that using Live View not only makes tak­ing the photo eas­ier, but gives you a 2D image to look at right away. Many times I catch bad com­po­si­tional ele­ments this way.  Check out this series of shots that illus­trate how I cleaned up my shot –

Pho­to­graph by Kris­ten Smith

Hmm that back­ground doesn’t do the flower any favors, does it?  I need to make the flower really pop out of the bokeh, not just sit there in it.  That stump has got to go. Luck­ily at this mag­ni­fi­ca­tion and per­spec­tive, very small move­ments make for very big changes.

Pho­to­graph by Kris­ten Smith

I barely moved my cam­era, but the dif­fer­ence in back­ground works so much bet­ter.  But this time I notice two things – one, there’s a lot of light play­ing the back­drop and I have to time the shot right so that it is more uni­form back there and there aren’t any hot spots to detract from the flow­ers, two, there are a few stray pine nee­dles and that leaf in the bot­tom right isn’t con­tribut­ing any­thing good.  I pluck those out of the way and lo and behold there’s moss under that leaf and when I judge the light to be the best — Presto!

Pho­to­graph by Kris­ten Smith

So as you can see, the process can take a few steps to get a use­able image.  The key is to develop good habits.

  1. Stop and look at the whole scene, back­ground and fore­ground and eval­u­ate each aspect includ­ing the light if it’s variable
  2. Remove dis­tract­ing things like sticks and leaves
  3. Change cam­era posi­tion for more har­mo­nious back­grounds and foregrounds
  4. Use Live View to see how the 3D trans­lates to 2D

Hope­fully this helps you in the field the next time you’re doing close-up and macro work.  Got any to share?  Feel free to log in to the forum and start a thread.

For more of Kristen’s out­door pho­tog­ra­phy and other arti­cles visit


  1. White Petal Photography says:

    All good advice, fix­ing it in cam­era will save a lot of PP work later!

  2. really impor­tant stuff, it’s not all about the sub­ject in com­po­si­tion you really need to think about what’s “hap­pen­ing” with the scene.


  1. […] impor­tant the back­ground and other ele­ments are as they relate to your sub­ject.  Check it – Watch Your Back­grounds.  I really needed to edit it one last time, but oh […]

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