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Photography Tip: Adjust the Background to Highlight Your Subject
Many times the emphasis you want to place on the subject of your photo can be improved by first focusing your attention on the background. Objects, colors and other elements in the background can often diminish from what would otherwise be a great photograph.
When you are composing your image through your camera's viewfinder or LCD monitor, take a moment to focus on what is appearing behind and around the main subject. Our minds filter out elements that we're not concentrating on, so it is quite easy to overlook telephone poles or other vertical elements that seem to 'grow out of the head' of your subject. Other people or objects in the background may also seem to be attached to your subject because of their alignment. Colorful signs, bright colors, and other unusual objects in the background can vie for your viewer's attention.
If you notice that the background is affecting your photograph in a detracting way, the easiest solution may be to simply change position. A slightly different angle or perspective can make a huge difference in the final shot. If changing your lateral position is difficult, try adjusting your vertical position. A high-angle or low-angle shot may be the ticket to eliminating background clutter, and the unique angle could potentially give you a more interesting photo as a bonus. The zoom feature of many cameras can also be used to crop the edges of the photo; simply zoom in and out until extraneous objects are cut out and the ideal composition is found.
While a simple, plain background will help your subject stand out without much effort, patterned or colorful background elements do not necessarily have to be avoided. By adjusting the aperture and shutter speed of your camera manually, the focal length of the photo can be shortened so that your subject remains in crystal clear focus while the entire background is transformed into a blend of abstract colors and distracting objects are blurred past recognition.
Digital photography offers the added benefit of being able to improve your photograph after the fact. Photo editing software (such as Adobe Photoshop or Corel PhotoPaint) allows you to modify your images in ways only limited by your imagination. With a problem background, for example, the entire background of the photo can be blurred, softened, lightened or darkened until the subject stands out. Clutter or detracting objects can literally be removed from the photograph entirely. Expert software users can cut the subject from the photo in order to place it in a more suitable position. If all else fails, you can 'cut' the subject from the original photo and 'paste' it into a completely different background... just be sure to blend the edges into the new background, and make doubly sure that the coloring and shadows are compatible.
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