Back in the day when I led lots of field workshops, my students could often hear me chanting, “background, background, background.”
It was my way of reminding them that the best subject in the world, placed in front of a crappy background, leads to a crappy photo.
If there is one single thing that any photographer can do to improve his or her photography it’s to concentrate more on the background.
Background is always important. It’s so important that when I get to a new photo location, I spend most of my time looking for backgrounds first, subjects second.
The best background is a clean, uncluttered background. No telephone polls or wires, no cars dangling from your subject;s ear, no glaring bright spots and nothing to compete for attention with the subject.
The photo that accompanies this post. The cardinal is shot against a green background of natural forest, bushes and grasses.
Now the trick to making the tall grass a pleasing background was to shoot the shot wide open. I made this exposure at f/4 on my long lens. Note the narrow depth-of-field.
So that’s the trick. Use a large aperture to soften up your background and bring your subject into focus and right before you press the shutter button, double check the frame to make sure nothing clutters the background and steals your subject’s thunder.