Last week I showed you a really simple composition tool to improve your photos – cropping in close. 

One of the reasons cropping in close is so useful is that it avoids background distractions.

Background distractions are not great in photographs for a few reasons

  • They can distract attention away from the main part of the image (that’s usually a person if you’re taking a photo)
  • They can make the frame look cluttered
  • They can ruin the mood of an image
  • They can look silly (i.e. a tree behind someone can look like it’s growing out of their head!)

If you want to move away from just taking snapshots and take more considered, timeless portraits, you need to be aware of background distractions

How to Avoid Background Distractions in Your Images

 

1. Be Aware of Your Surroundings

When  you’re taking photos of your children, it’s tempting to focus just on them. Are they smiling? is the baby dribbling? is her dress tucked in her knickers again?

But also be aware of your surroundings. Have a quick scan either when taking the photo, or review the photo after to make sure there are no background distractions. That way you can fix the photo before you take the next one.

Dog poo bin? Not really the look I was going for.

2. Have a Quick Tidy

You don’t need to pretend you live in a show home, your images should be real. But that doesn’t mean you can’t remove some clutter before you take the photo. Move the laundry pile, pickup some toys and clear the clutter before you take the shot. The less clutter you have in your images, the more the focus will be where it’s supposed to be.

3. Pay Close Attention to Heads

One of the most obvious forms of background distractions are things growing out of people’s heads!

Tree trucks, branches, poles. Make sure they are not directly behind a person or it will look like it’s growing out of their head!

4. Change Your Perspective

Move around to avoid the distractions. In the case of distractions behind someone’s head, you only need to move slightly to avoid this. Sometimes you may need to change your perspective to avoid the distraction.

In the image below the park was really busy. I didn’t want any other children in my shot so I got down low and shot her against the sky, avoiding all the people in the park.

In this image I didn’t like the cluttered look of the background so I changed my composition to get more of the ride and less of the background in the frame. Notice how the first image is more vibrant than the second one, that’s because I shot it from the opposite direction, and switched from back light to front light.

5. Use a Shallow Depth of Field

You can blur background distractions to reduce them.

This works best if the are not to close to your subject.

To blur your distractions, ideally use a longer focus length. This doesn’t work so well with wide angle lenses so use a focal length of 50mm or higher.

  • Set your aperture to a low number, around F4
  • Get close to your subject
  • Make sure the background is far away

In this image, I used a shallow depth of field to turn the crowds of people into a colourful background.

6. Remove Distractions in Photoshop

If you take a great shot, only to notice later that there’s a big, ugly garbage bun in your background, you can remove it in Photoshop. Ideally it’s best to try and avoid these distractions in the first place, but mistakes happen and hey, that’s what’s Photoshop is there for.

 
Want to learn how to remove background distractions in Photoshop? 
I teach it on day 5 of my FREE 5 Days to Photoshop Course

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