If you don't watch what is behind the subject, you could end up alien instead of Alan.

If you don’t watch what is behind the subject, you could end up alien instead of Alan.

It seems obvious that when we’re composing a photograph that we need to look at what is in the frame of that photo, and pay attention to the photo background.  However, this is often overlooked in practice and can lead to some humorous shots with unexpected distractions.  Check out “my favorite Martian” to the left.

When photographing a person, we’re busy talking and watching their expression, the light falling on their face and so on.  Just don’t forget to see what else is in the frame.  The photo background can be helpful or simply ruin the shot, so don’t get a surprise later when you go through the images.

Professional photographers control the photo background carefully in the studio, but when in the natural environment, there are many distractions.  In addition to unexpected antennae, problems can occur that cause autofocus to settle in on a distracting element and you find your subject is blurry.  Autofocus tends to pick up on items closer to the camera, so keep tabs on the point or points for focus of your image.  Sophisticated cameras allow you many choices of focal points or priorities and even the ability to maintain focus while the subject is in motion.  Canon’s 5D Mark III had many advances in the focusing system over their older 5D Mark II.  If your camera has controls and choices for focusing (virtually all SLR cameras have this) then practice so your feel comfortable and in control of the point of focus.

Photo of woman with fall leaves stopped in motion midair.

Here the background is deliberately blurred to separate the subject from all distractions.

One of the primary differences between good and not so good photographers is attention to the entire photograph and making sure that the photo background, even if deliberately out of focus, contributes to the picture.  In fact, blurring the background by using a low aperture or standing closer to the subject can be a great way to eliminate peripheral distractions when it is not feasible to take the shot from an angle that is more favorable.

The background is part of the photo.  Plan it and use it well and you won’t get that surprise Martian in your picture.