by Brad Herndon
Whether you are photographing your family, flowers, or an animal, be observant of the background. Your wife, husband, children, grandchildren, friends, or hunting buddies won’t look very good if they are posed in front of an old junk yard. Likewise, a pretty flower isn’t so pretty if a piece of trash is showing in the background. Always be sure to put eye appealing backgrounds in your pictures. If this means moving your people to another location, then by all means do so.
Almost all beginning photographers have their pictures littered with bad backgrounds. Cars, telephone poles, highways, ugly fences, and general clutter are just a few of the subjects that can ruin an otherwise good picture. By being careful and using pleasing backgrounds, you will see a noticeable improvement in your pictures.
In the portrait you see of our friend Kevin Kramer, we used a lake for a pleasing background. Few people think of using a lake as a background, yet it makes an excellent one because the water is smooth and uncluttered.
As you can see, these blurred, or blown out, backgrounds really draw the viewer’s eye to the subject. These shots are sometimes called “glamour” shots because they carry so much impact. This is true whether you are photographing people, birds, animals, or some other subject.
Sometimes, though, you may want the background to show to some degree in order to tell a story. For example, the picture showing a hunter in a tree stand sells well because the background reveals he is hunting a swampy region in a bottom area. Obviously a magazine running an article about how to hunt “swamp bucks” is happy to find an image such as this.
If the photographer is using a camera that uses interchangeable lenses, a 300mm, 400mm, 500mm, or 600mm lens is typically used for those blown out background deer, elk, turkey, bird, and other wildlife shots. These lenses are used because it is hard to get close to wild animals and these long focal lengths with high magnifying powers allow the photographer to capture quality images even from a distance. Most of these images are taken with the camera on a tripod.
Usually these shots are taken with the lens opening set at 4 or 5.6, which lets in a lot of light and enables the photographer to have a higher shutter speed which ensures sharper images. These lens aperture settings are also called focal ratios, or aperture stops, and you often hear them referred to as F stops. I will discuss them in more detail in the future.
For great people portraits, a lens setting in the 85mm to 135mm range works perfectly. Be sure to keep the person well away from your background when taking their portrait in order to blur out the background with an aperture setting of 4 or 5.6. This setup works well for two, three or four people, although you may have to go to a slightly wider angle lens setting such as 50mm to 70mm if doing group pictures.
If you have a point and shoot camera, put it on Portrait Mode to do these pictures. With a big group you may have to try setting your camera on Landscape Mode and see how it turns out.
With shots such as the hunter in a tree stand and the two men looking over the peaceful valley, try both the Portrait Mode and the Landscape Mode on your point and shoot camera, then pick out the best picture. If you have a camera using interchangeable lenses, a 40mm to 70mm lens setting works best, and an aperture opening of around 8 or 11.
What I have described in today’s lesson is just the basics of using the proper background, lens settings, and aperture settings. As you gain knowledge, I will add elements to the teaching that will enable you to advance as a photographer to a greater degree. For now, I would rather go too slow than too fast.
Your Background Is Important Too
The Bible tells us this in Romans 3:23: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;.
When I was a teenager I drank excessively, smoked, cursed, was inconsiderate to my mom and others around me, and my life was a general mess. Although I didn’t read the Bible then, I knew what I was doing was wrong, and when I reached my 20s and did read the Bible, the verse quoted above confirmed what I already knew. It bothered me, too, just as many people today are suffering from a burden of guilt from past wrongs committed.
The sins committed may be adultery, theft, the abortion of an unborn child, drug addiction, a gambling problem, pornography, greed, jealousy, pride, and the list goes on and on. We all have committed sins--many of them--and they form a junk yard background for each of our lives.
There Is Hope For A Good Background
Thankfully, God isn’t hindered by what the background is in our lives. No matter how bad, how black, how cluttered our background is, He can clean it up! When Jesus Christ suffered and died on a cross, he took each of our sins upon himself and freed us from the burden and guilt of our wrongdoings. When we acknowledge our sins to God, and ask for forgiveness in the name of Jesus, God erases, cleans up, blurs out, all of our past wrongdoings.
I love the scripture found in John 10:10 where Jesus says, The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
Since I became a believer in Jesus Christ and confessed my sins, I can truly say I have enjoyed my life more abundantly—beyond measure in fact. And I look forward to living in the heavenly realm with Jesus, God the Father, and my loved ones forever.
If you are a Christian, don’t forget to give thanks each day to God for the great sacrifice he gave in order for each of us to have such a beautiful and pure background. And if you’re reading this and are not a Christian, please consider taking Jesus Christ into your life today. He will bless your life, remove your burden of guilt, and turn you into a different, and happier person.
Behold, I make all things new. Revelation 21:5