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Pay Attention to the Background

A challenge that many photographers have with close-up and macro work is that they get really excited seeing something up close in ways that they have never seen before—and they completely forget about the background. This is a natural response. We have to force ourselves to go beyond that cool subject and see the whole photo, which includes that background.

The background can make your subject look great—or terrible. Backgrounds can help your subject to stand out by providing contrast; they can be darker or lighter, or distinctly out of focus.

When backgrounds are the same tonality or color as the subject, your subject can blend in and get lost in the photo. A really strong contrast in sharpness between subject and background can help, as seen in Figure 11. Shoot with more of a telephoto or a wider f-stop (such as f/2.8 or f/4), and find an angle to your subject that puts the background farther away.

Figure 11

Figure 11 Sneezeweed, very shallow depth of field.

A big problem in backgrounds is distracting elements there that fight for attention with your subject, such as inappropriately sharp objects sticking into the side of the image. Often, the background is distracting because, even though it is out of focus, it is sharp enough to be recognizable and therefore attract the viewer's eye.

Spots of light and other bright or colorful areas in the background, sharp or not, can be distracting. Bright areas, especially those that contrast in brightness with other things around them, will always attract the viewer's eye away from the subject.

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