Photography Troubleshooting: Backgrounds

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Kaz-D's avatar
This series of articles aims to answer the questions of Photographers on deviantART who have burning issues with their cameras. Have an issue? Leave a comment at the end of the article and we'll do our best to help you figure out the answer. Additionally if you have information that could help someone out - let us know!

"From when I used to do photography what I struggled with most was the backgrounds, I wanted to focus in on the objects and then I'd take it to my tutors and they'd go "it's nice but the background is your desk, or your bookshelf" Unless I'm shooting on an infinity curve I struggle to 'see' appropriate backgrounds for my set up..." FionaCreates

"Hi FionaCreates, backgrounds can either be a part of the photograph or apart from it (I'm quite pleased with what I did there :B).

Many still life images, particularly in a 'studio' on 'constructed' setting (as in, you put the subjects somewhere purposely to take a photograph of them) have the focus almost entirely on the subject itself. In this case, simplicity is key. If you can, try to buy or find some large sheets of white paper or cardboard, what you use will depend on your setup of course. Put your subject on the front of the sheet closest to you or your camera, get some books or a wall or a chair or whatever is convenient and stick the sheet of paper vertically on to it. This should make for a smooth and plain background that the subject will sit on.

Of course, once you've done this, you can go experiment with different colours and even patterns to the paper. With very large sheets or rolls of paper you can even use this for other sorts of photography, such as portraiture. This option is similar to using a light tent, which allows you to use the same paper principle as previously mentioned, as well as providing other advantages, how to make a light tent can show you how to make one for next to nothing.

Another option to abstract the subject from the background is to make the background as blurred as possible, this is a function of Depth of Field, and at its most basic, is affected by three things. The Focal Length of the lens, the Aperture of the lens, and the distance between the background the subject and you. For the uninitiated, the Depth of Field is at its most basic, the distance in front of and behind the focal plane (as in, what you actually focused on) that looks 'sharp' or in focus. There are, of course, numerous things that make this field a little more ambiguous then it actually is. For example, the larger the image is reproduced at, the smaller the depth of field can appear to be, which is something related to the Circle of Confusion which goes beyond the scope of the question. Virtually any camera can produce a blurred background by manipulation of one or more of the three previously mentioned attributes of focal length, aperture and subject distance.

For the sake of ease:

:bulletblack:Longer Focal Lengths will decrease Depth of Field
:bulletblack:Larger Aperture (smaller F numbers) will decrease Depth of Field
:bulletblack:Shorter Subject distance between the subject and you will also decrease Depth of Field.

This decrease in Depth of Field will help to ensure that the background is actually blurred compared to the subject. Extremely short Depth of Field can make parts of the subject itself blurred, which is particularly apparent with Macro photography. Experimenting with combining all three of the aforementioned variables will hopefully lead to some smooth and distinct (from the subject) backgrounds." ~ sine-out

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meta4ical714's avatar
Thank you for using my background! It's really cool, and I seriously appreciate it! ^^ Wonderful article.