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Too often we focus on the ‘subjects’ of our photography: whether it’s a model, a landscape, or even a flower. But, what inevitably is simultaneously captured is the surrounding area, and ultimately this becomes the background for your pictures.

Sometimes, a strong backdrop can detract from an otherwise fantastic shot, and learning to control this element can really give you the control back in your photography. If you want to make the most of backgrounds, or perhaps shift the focus back onto the subject of your photographs, here are five tips on how to utilise this extra image content.

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Image Credit: Kevin Steele

Depth of field

If you really want to focus on one particular point for your images, you’ll probably want to consider depth of field to achieve this. This isn’t to say that you have to have a blank space in the background, but it does mean that what’s in the foreground simply matters more. In these instances, using depth of field will help you to really target those all-important focal points and blur out anything that you don’t want to draw attention to. And remember, a wider aperture yields a shorter depth of field.

Open spaces

What an open space can offer you is wonderful backdrop scenes. They give you the focus on your model or object but with the addition of a as opposed to the exclusion of this background when using depth of field. Choose an area with interesting features, whether it’s an array of interesting architecture at a distance or a beautiful open field allowing for fantastic skyline opportunities. Open spaces can be particularly effective for wedding photography: Think of a bride and groom on their wedding day with their wedding venue and guests in the background. A magical shot that they’ll love.

Think laterally 

Working with what you have is sometimes just about looking at things from a different angle and thinking less horizontally. If you are photographing a person, why do you need to capture the shot from immediately in front of them? Having them sit on the floor and looking up (or the other way around!) creates an idyllic backdrop for the image. Keep a look out for beautiful clouds, intricate ceilings in buildings, interesting flooring, or even just some beautiful autumn leaves on the ground and you may just find a backdrop right in front of you, no effort needed.


Remember, you can plan and plan your images, but sometimes they just won’t come out the way you had planned. The key here is not to panic. Firstly, we’re in a digital age now and without the threat of film running out, snapping multiple versions of one image is A-Okay. Alternatively, don’t be afraid to master your post-photography skills. Photographing young children is a great example of this. Often, with toddlers you will need piles of toys to get that precious smile on camera. However, the pile of nappies and brightly coloured puppets may detract from the child. The solution is easy: crop out the junk.

Do It Yourself

Who says that a background has to be something natural like a sky? Try and use what you have and get creative. If you want a new personal photo, coloured sheets can make for great backgrounds. Similarly, many modern houses are now decorated with patterned wallpaper. Move the furniture around and you have a patterned backdrop ready and waiting to go. If you’re planning on blurring out the background slightly, but not completely, try moving your subject a few feet forward from the backdrop to capture it slightly. Layered newspapers or posters can really create colourful and interesting backdrops which can be constructed with little fuss and cost.

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Posted by Brett Harkness

Brett Harkness is a professional photographer who began his career taking photographs on cruise ships in America and the Caribbean. He now runs a thriving photographic studio with his wife and business partner Kristie just outside Manchester, and specialises in wedding, lifestyle, commercial, fashion, and travel photography. Brett also offers a range of courses which cover topics including lighting and wedding photography. For more information please visit

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