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Photo tips: backgrounds

Over time I am posting tips on taking better photos, so here is another one: Keep an eye on the background when you are taking a picture!

It can be challenging to take candid photos of people because you can’t always control the background, so I’ll blog about that in another post. This one will focus more on still objects where you can control the background.

1. Watch how the background interacts with the object.

Because our house is pretty full of stuff and doesn’t have much empty background, I first tried photographing the trophy on the floor against the sofa. But then it ended up looking like this.

A dark black line, right through the middle. (Oh, and you can also ignore that the faceplate fell off so there is a nice lovely streak of masking tape on the trophy.)

A dark black line does not really enhance the appearance of the trophy, I must say. This photo managed to catch some kind of pinkish reflection, which added to the interest of the purple texture on the trophy, but that background just does not do. So, onto the second iteration.

2. Use a simple background to reduce distractions from the subject.

I draped my black knit wrap over the end of the sofa and had it spill onto the floor. The black background made a huge difference!

You can even try out different angles. Just shooting from below makes this thing look huge. Who can tell from this picture that the trophy is only like ten inches tall?

You can also turn the subject at a slight angle to get more of a feeling of depth. This photo below is also interesting because of the fringe of the wrap got into the foreground because I had the camera on the ground. It adds visual interest, I think.

3. Use a background related to the subject.

Another way is to use a non-distracting background with your subject. Since the trophy is a music trophy, what better place to put it than on the piano?

I think I prefer the shots of the trophies where they are more eye-level as opposed to this one, which is looking down. But I chose this angle because our piano is incredibly dusty and I wanted to crop out most of the evidence of my poor housekeeping skills. Good thing the shallow depth of field makes it all soft-focused so you don’t know it’s really all dust back there. True confessions. There, I feel better.

4. Crop out unwanted areas.

This one seems so obvious, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless.  Here’s the before picture.

This collection shows just how small my wrap is… too small to fit everything on there! Plus there is a lovely view of my sofa, pillow, and table. At least you can’t see the Biology and Algebra 2 books I stole from my daughter to raise up the back trophies.

But then comes out that wonderful cropping tool!

Wow! What a different look!

Okay, I admit it. I cheated a little. I touched up the corner and left edge to get rid of the fringe and grey back side. But other than that, the background is pretty much the way I took it. Just punch up the blacks a little (using “levels” in Photoshop) and you can’t even tell it’s a knit fabric!

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4 Comments

  • Reply Carmen Lin

    That second place trophy is Corrie’s. You must forgotten to give it to her. It is not yours.

    September 22, 2010 at 9:27 am
    • Reply Angela Yee

      Ha ha! I guess it was so long ago I don’t even remember what these trophies were for or who they belonged to!

      September 22, 2010 at 1:58 pm
  • Reply Corrie

    Ha – you can take pictures of my trophy for me – I am sure they will turn out better than anything I can do!!

    I found a large black tablecloth at a garage sale that I use for backgrounds! You are welcome to borrow it!

    September 22, 2010 at 10:26 am
    • Reply Angela Yee

      Great to hear about the black tablecloth! 🙂

      September 22, 2010 at 1:58 pm

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