But what’s in the background?

Somewhere once in my readings, I came across a blog post that talked about paying attention to the background when taking pictures. The photo they chose to illustrate the point was of an elderly woman in a living room, standing in front of a Victorian lamp… and, of course, the lamp shade was just over her head, making it look like a hat.

Salvation Army Lady

Need to get rid of that pole!

I’ve had my own “lampshade” moments. A few weeks after I got my camera – way back in 2010 – the Salvation Army lady downtown asked me to take her picture. I could have moved around and had my choice of backgrounds, but managed to end up with a shot with a big pole coming out of her head, something I didn’t notice until it was pointed out to me. This problem would be easy enough to remove in Photoshop, but I leave it there as a personal reminder to look at the background.

These days, I delete lots of pictures just because the backgrounds detract from the subject (and aren’t worth the work of cleaning up in Photoshop). Sometimes, though, there’s just way too much going on in the scene, and a busy background can’t be avoided. If you’re lucky, shooting with a low f/stop will blur out the noise in the background.

Yesterday, I spent most of the day at the Ithaca Scottish Games and Celtic Festival. Fun times! There were lots of great clean shots to be had, especially of the artisans – such as the man who was explaining how he makes chain mail…

Chain Mail Artisan

This man makes chain mail – and puts a LOT of work into it. I’d buy from him if I were in the market for any.

…or of one of the game participants who was walking across the field with the weight he was about to throw. (I had the picture up in Flickr, and was about to post it here, when I realized that there was yellow measuring tape in the grass. It’s gone now!)

Scottish Games

Scottish Games

The action shots of the men in kilts who were participating in the games were much more problematic. The contestants were in an enclosed area that was completely surrounded by tents, signs, and people, and were far enough away that I couldn’t compensate with a narrow depth of field. In the end, none of those shots make it to my list of favorites.

I did find a few scenes, however, in which I was able to incorporate the background, including this one:

Cushing Bagpipe Co.

Testing a reed just purchased from the Cushing Bagpipe Co.

A shot I took earlier this week, for my Flickr group challenge “summer”, falls into this incorporate-the-background category as well:


Luckily, this sprinkler was programmed to point away from me.

Fortunately, I’m usually free to alter backgrounds to my heart’s content – something that wouldn’t be true if I were shooting for a newspaper, for example, or submitting a photo to a contest that doesn’t allow modifications (beyond what could be done in a traditional darkroom).  But the smartest thing to do is to just pay attention when framing the shot!



    • Thanks Teresita! … I was out during my lunch break taking pictures of a boring old sprinkler on the lawn at work, when my co-worker walked by and mentioned that there were sprinklers over in the garden. So she gets most of the credit. 🙂

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