Before you take your shot, take a good look around the viewfinder to make sure everything that's in frame needs to be. If it doesn't, here are a few ways you can remove the unwanted object(s) and some ideas on what things you should avoid capturing in your frame.
There's nothing distracting in the background of the above image taken by Rick Hanson
What Should I Be Looking Out For?
1. Check The Frame For Unsightly Objects
Items such as rubbish bins, dead trees, shopping trolleys in rivers and broken benches do have significance and a place in some photographs but most of the time they're on the 'try to avoid list'. You don't want a microwave or mattress spoiling your idyllic landscape shot.
2. Make Sure Poles Aren't Sticking Out Of Heads
If you're shooting portraits outdoors make sure you don't position your subject so it looks like they have a lamp post, telephone pole, tree or any other object sticking out of the top of their head. In some cases in can look quite amusing but more often than not it's just a distraction.
3. Look Out For Distracting Highlights
Areas of an image that are overexposed or particularly bright will draw the eye away from what it should be looking at to it. To stop this, make sure the image is exposed correctly and look out for reflective or other bright surfaces that could cause you problems. The same goes for particularly shadowy areas, too.
The event steward's vest is rather distracting and pulls the eye from the car to the busy background.
4. Be Careful With Bright Colours
As with highlights, if you have an object that's brightly coloured that isn't your main focus of the shot it can pull the eye to it. Yellow jackets that officials wear at races and other events are a good example of this. Most of the time you won't want them to be the focus of the shot, but they will be in the background and their bright coloured jackets stand out like spotlights, pulling the focus of the image to them.
5. Be Aware Of Busy Backgrounds
When you're shooting portraits, of any kind, unless the background adds to the shot you'll probably want to blur it out of view. This is true for macro work too such as when you're working in the garden, focusing on one flower that's sat against a background of garden equipment and other distracting objects.
Even though the background of the shot is out of focus, the dog in the background is still a little distracting.
How Do I Fix The Above Problems?
1. Move Your Subject
If you can't move the object that's causing the problem the easiest way to get the empty background you're looking for is to move your subject. This doesn't mean picking a new location to shoot in as moving them a couple of steps to the left or right of where they first stood could fix your problem.
2. Move Yourself
If you have to shoot against the particular part of the background you positioned your subject against then pick up your kit and move yourself so the object that's causing the distraction is no longer in the frame.
3. Change Angle
Can you shoot from higher up or lower down? You may find a change in angle gives you a new take on a shot that's overdone. This technique works particularly well for flowers as you can use the sky as a clutter-free background for your images if you're garden's full of distracting objects.
4. Create Your Own Background
For small subjects such as plants you can use pieces of card and material as backgrounds for your shots, hiding the scene in front of you behind it.
5. Use A Different Focal Length
If you've got a variety of lenses to hand or have packed a zoom lens, try cropping in to remove whatever is distracting the eye.
6. Change Orientation
If you don't have a variety of focal lengths to-hand try switching from landscape to portrait orientation.
7. Blur The Background
If you don't need the background to be in focus use a wider aperture to throw it out of focus. If you're using a compact camera switch to macro mode for close-up work as your camera will select a larger aperture so the background's thrown out of focus. If you're shooting portraits with a compact select Portrait Mode as, again, your camera will know it needs to use a larger aperture so the background's out of focus.
8. Use Foreground Detail As A Frame
If it's branches and leaves that are causing you problems why not blur them to create a soft, out of focus frame for your image? For more tips on framing take a look at our previous article: Ten Top Ways To Use Frames In Your Images.
9. Experiment With Longer Shutter Speeds In Cities
If you're working in a place that's full of people and you don't want them in your shot, use longer exposures to remove them. This works particularly well at night and is the same technique photographers use to capture light trails in night shots.
The problem with using longer shutter speeds in the daytime is the amount of light that will reach your camera's sensor and you can end up with very overexposed shots. But try using a small aperture such as f/22 and find a location which is slightly shaded and experiment to see if it'll work. Using an ND filter will also help you get the slower shutter speeds you need. If you're photographing city streets at night and only want the lights, traffic and buildings to appear in the shot, this technique works particularly well at removing people from the scene.
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