Great Photo Backgrounds Without Backdrops

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Most of us don’t have a photography studio set up in our homes or regular access to perfect scenery and/or indoor settings to use as backdrops in our everyday pictures. I (Katie) love finding new ways to improve the backgrounds in my photos, and I especially love sharing those ideas with our fabulous readers here at The Daily Digi!

I’m not a professional photographer. I’m simply a scrapbooker who appreciates the meaning and power of a great picture. I capture everyday life and document it. When I take pictures of my family enjoying a fun moment together, I want the setting to be a natural one, and I usually only have a few minutes to get the shot. Anyone who has tried to photograph a small child (or a less-than-willing adult) knows that they aren’t going to stop and pose in front of the perfect backdrop just for you to snap their picture!

Today, I want to focus on a few tips that will help you get the best backgrounds possible for any photo you take. One of the best tricks I have learned is to PRACTICE! Because people (especially children) have a limited amount of patience to sit still, I like to do my “homework” with an inanimate object first. I try different setups, camera settings, and ideas with my test subject and then apply the learning to real life people and situations. I highly recommend you try the same approach! Don’t forget to take notes so you can learn from your successes and mistakes. Keep a notebook in your camera bag, or use a small tape recorder (or voice recorder on a smart phone) to keep track of the variations you try.

Here’s my model. These same techniques will work with people shots as well, you just have to think on a larger scale.

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SCOUT IT OUT

Professional photographers will scout out a location before they shoot there. They might go check it out days (or weeks) before the scheduled session and also arrive early on the day of the shoot. They look for the best lighting, backgrounds, and find any distracting areas to avoid. The “capture the moment” photographer does not usually have the luxury of pre-planning and composing the shots. There is no reason why you can’t do a little scout work though. Walk through your house and yard with a camera in your hand and take pictures from several different angles. Experiment with where you can best capture a pleasing background that isn’t too distracting. Feel free to do this same exercise with other locations where you take a lot of photos (Grandma’s house, the park, work, etc.)

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Once I looked around the house, I realized that my daughter’s room had a nice little corner with some beautiful natural light. I moved the chair around to take advantage of the light. If you inspect the surroundings you will notice that the room wasn’t perfectly clean – I just chose to point my camera to the part that looked good. 🙂

LEARN A FEW CAMERA SETTINGS

Your camera can blur the background of a photograph so the emphasis stays on the subject. I want to emphasize that it’s not about the camera here, but rather understanding how to work the camera that you use. A point-and-shoot camera can shoot beautiful photos and this article from photojojo will teach you a great trick to blur backgrounds in photographs. If you own a DSLR camera there are many settings that will help you achieve some wonderful background blur. You will want to experiment with your own camera settings and lenses. Be sure to read your manual and you might enjoy checking out these great photography learning resources.

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SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS

If your son built an amazing Lego contraption in his incredibly messy room, he will be thrilled if you take a picture of it. Sometimes you might want to include the background mess as part of the story, but for most of the shots you will probably want to focus on the creation and the proud creator. You can blur the background or change your camera angle, but maybe you just want to move the pile of laundry out of the shot. No one will ever know! If you want to take pictures of your daughter baking cookies, there is nothing wrong with removing some of the distracting extras from the countertop to keep the focus on the chef and her delicious treats.

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Once I removed the patterned pillows and zoomed in a bit, the focus went completely on the subject.

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Besides tidying up, there are a few other ways to ensure your background doesn’t distract from the story you want your photo to tell.

  • Crop in tight to get rid of unwanted items in the background
  • Solid color walls work well. Avoid pieces of artwork or clocks if possible.
  • Brick or stone walls, opaque fences, siding on a house or building all provide free and fun and subtle backgrounds for many photographs.
  • Don’t place your subject right up against the wall or you might get strange shadows around them.
  • Make the most of natural light from nearby windows. Lighting can make a big difference on how your background looks and a flash will wash out portions of the photo and will cause shiny spots or shadows on a person’s face. Harsh sunlight will create deep shadows that don’t work well for a subject or background.
  • Large areas of grass, sky, or open fields make wonderful backdrops for outdoor photos.
  • If you are photographing young children, set up a play area for them where you hope to photograph them, or bring along a few items of interest to capture their attention so you can take their picture in front of a great background area.

Once you get familiar with the tips and techniques to find and use good natural backgrounds, have fun capturing the moments around you!

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P.S. apphotog was our random winner from the comments left in Julie’s post from yesterday! She won $10 in product from Julie! Here’s what she said: “Julies designs are amazing. I absolutely LOVE Prarie Fields. It’s GORGEOUS. Can’t wait to pick up the newest kit, Rambunctious. In it Together is also fabulous…the colors are so yummy together, some of my favorites.” Watch your inbox! 🙂