Create Better Photo Backgrounds

(Last Updated On: February 12, 2019)

Backgrounds are at the very least the second most crucial element of a successful image, and you could easily argue it’s the essential photo element. You cannot have a brilliant photo with a bad background. Well, if you managed to photograph Big Foot, nobody is going to argue about the background.

Analyze the Scene

The first step of a great image is to analyze the entire scene and then position your self where you create the image that you want. Sometimes there will only be one place where the background and the subject will work. In that case, you have to wait for the magic moment. In other times the subject may be in a great place, but the background s terrible, so you have to move to make the best possible photograph. Don’t just stand there and bang away, change your position to find the best location for the best image.


A mistake that I am always trying to correct on workshops is where clients find a good spot, and then happily fire hundreds of shots of what is the same image. Once home editing, they are going to see they only took one picture but took 400 shots. Be confident in what you saw in the viewfinder or “chimp” to be sure and move on and try to find a way to make that image better, and I am pretty sure it isn’t going to be standing in the same spot!

Depth of Field

Using a fast lens is a great tool to help make your background better. A fast lens is one that has an F-Stop of 4 or lower. A lower F-Stop (smaller number) provides a shallow depth of field (DOF), and that results in beautiful creamy backgrounds. A small DOF emphasizes the subject and de-emphasizes the foreground and background.


You may not always have access to prime or fast lenses, and the other means of improving the image background is to increase the distance from the subject to the background. In the first image the blackberry bramble was only a few inches from the bird, and in the second it was many yards.

short distance backgroundlong distance background

Create Better Photo Backgrounds Conclusions

  • Analyze the scene
  • Don’t forget you can move
  • Control Your Depth of Field
  • Increase the distance to the background

More Quick Photo Tips

Do you have a quick tip that you would like to share?

2019-02-12T18:57:37+00:00February 5th, 2019|


  1. Charlie Newman February 5, 2019 at 9:15 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the refresher Jeff. I often find myself guilty of finding a sweet spot from which to shoot and staying put rather than moving around to try and capture different angles, better backgrounds, etc. Like you pointed out to many similar, if not identical shots, except perhaps for lighting.

    One thing that isn’t a problem for me, but could be for others, is getting on site early enough and allowing enough time to check it out before setting up.

    • Jeff Wendorff February 5, 2019 at 9:49 pm - Reply

      Thanks very much, Charlie. Getting out there ahead of the light is a terrific landscape tip! Much like when you were on the Newfoundland Photography Workshop and we went to the lighthouse a day early to check it out and plan the next mornings shoot.

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