Professional Photographer Mai Duong, the most enthusiastic photographer you will ever meet.

Photo Tip: 7 Tips for Having Good Backgrounds – at Kleinman Eruption

In this post, I’m going to discuss the importance of good backgrounds.  Backgrounds can do a lot for a photo.  They can enhance your subject, or detract attention from your subject.  Watching out for your background is one of the easiest ways to improve a photograph.    In general, you want to avoid distracting elements or unattractive elements in the background of your photo.  I’m going to use my experience from photographing the Kleinman Eruption Ultimate Tournament to help explain my points.

Unhelpful Tip: Make the background out of focus.  In other words: use a wide aperture.  Or increase the focal length with a telephoto lens.

Before getting into the 7 tips, I’m going to address this tip.  While it does help improve your background, it doesn’t actually fix the issues.  Plus, it makes you reconsider your gear.  In this following photo, the photo is a pretty cool shot of him diving for the disc, except there’s a car and a fence in the background, and a pole running right through him.

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos

In this photo, I see a ton of cars that take away from the action.

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos

So how about we use a wider aperture?  A telephoto?

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos

Cool, now instead of a focused pole running through her head, we’ve got a fuzzy pole running through her head.  So a wide aperture won’t just do it.  You’ll need to reorient yourself so that the pole doesn’t intersect your subject.

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos

This photos brings me to the next problem with wide apertures.  Sometimes, no matter how wide the aperture you use, you still can’t completely fuzz something out.  Like bright blue port-a-potty’s.

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos

I see you building.

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos

And I see you cars.  Why, you look even bigger now.  This is due to the long focal length.  I will explain that optical element in another post.

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos

So, in this case at Delta Park, the field had some pretty unsavory backgrounds.  Using a wide aperture or a telephoto wasn’t going to solve my problems.

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos

Real Tip for Getting Good Backgrounds:

Move yourself.  Look for a good background and point yourself in that direction.

So, how do you find a good background?

1.  Avoid Distracting Elements:

Sometimes, the background is all you get.  If there’s a distracting element, avoid them by keeping your subject off them.  In this photo, there were a ton of distracting elements, but at least the poles weren’t through the subject (the passer).

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos

2.  Look for Clean and Simple:

If you have uncomplicated backgrounds, you can focus on your subject, and make it obvious as to who your subject is.  In the following photo, this was the cleanest angle I had.  I had moved myself to a far end of the field.  Sure there’s a huge building, a bit bright, but the red pops out and you look at that first, before moving onto the rest of the photo.

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos

And, if you catch a sliver of a port-a-potty, you can always crop that out, which I didn’t do for discussions sake.

3. Look for Complex or Intricate.  But Keep Their Head in a Clean Space:

Sometimes the background can tell a story.  Here, you see the story: a sunny day, teammates and spectators lounging on the side and watching the game.

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos

But if you can, be sure to keep your subject’s head in a clean space.

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos

And throw in a shirtless guy while you’re at it.

4. Look for Contrast:

Contrast between subject and background can help your subject stand out.

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos

And, these two photos bring us to the next tip.

5. Use Your Background Space If You Want It.

Sometimes, the background is important, so rather than filling the frame, if the background helps to tell a story, include it.

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos

 In this photo, without seeing the other players in the background, you might not understand what’s happening.  If I had cropped in tight, so the photo was without them, he would have been just a guy holding a frisbee.  With them, he’s a guy waiting to start the game.

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos

6. Change your angle:

With events like sports, you don’t really have much control over what your subject moves in front of.  So instead, try adjusting your angle.  For this tournament, I mostly shot from as low as possible so that the players’ heads were in the sky as much as possible.  Generally, the sky offers a great space to put subjects’ heads in a clean spot.

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos


7. Have fun, get creative…

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos

… and don’t stop shooting just because the background isn’t nice.

You never know when it might be the game winning point!

Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos Kleinman Ultimate Frisbee Photos

Hope this is helpful to you, and if you have any more suggestions or tips for me to add, let me know!


2 responses

  1. Excellent advice for those of us who might not otherwise notice such things. Keep the photo tips coming!

    March 19, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    • Thanks Greg! I’ll most some more tips, thanks to your request 🙂

      March 20, 2012 at 2:10 pm

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