In many cases, the part of the photograph that is the most important is often the most overlooked. The background of an image can do many things- it can help establish context for the image, add emotion or feeling and strengthen the narrative of the picture. When shooting photos, it is important to understand the impact that the background can have, and how to use it to your advantage.
Look at the Background
Before you press the shutter button of your next photo, take a second and check out the background first. Are there any objects or people in your picture that are distracting? Are there any noticeable or loud colors that bring your attention away from the subject? Is there a tree or light pole coming out of the person's head? These are all things you should be watching out for when you shoot, and with a quick mental checklist they are all easily avoided.
Crop Inside Your Camera
Framing is an incredibly important part of the art of photography. Many bad backgrounds can be avoided altogether simply by framing the picture differently and having the subject take up most of the picture. Do not forget that you really do not need a background with every shot- a background is simply an option that's available to enhance your image. Try to make this decision while shooting and not in the editing room; it's always best to get it right in-camera.
If you do not like the looks of your background than it's time to start moving and find a better angle. In almost every shooting situation, you can find ways to work around a tricky background rather than having to include it. Additionally, moving the angle around a bit may give you new inspiration on how to make good use of the background, and will also help you create unique and interesting photographs.
Use What You Have
Even though many photographers have nice backdrops to compliment their portraits, you really can find a lot of nice backdrops right around you. Any time you're taking a picture of someone, take a look at the area around you to see if there is anything that will help to enhance the picture. For example, do not include a swing set in the background unless you're going to have your subject sitting in it? Consider the background to be another character in your photographs and utilize it whenever possible.
Playing Around with the Depth of Field
When it comes to your background, make sure to be selective of something that will look good. You can play with the depth of field of your photograph by using different shutter speeds, so feel free to blur out the background with shallow depth of field if you feel that it is not important or will be distracting. Additionally, people interpret depth of field differently depending on the image, so try to think of ways that manipulating it can tell a more powerful story.
Many photographers get so busy with worrying about how the subject looks that they completely forget about the background. If you use backgrounds properly they can make a look look great, while ignoring a background can make a bad shot even worse .. When it comes right down to it, the photographer is really responsible for every element of the picture. If the background is detracting from the image, it is up to you to either find a way to make it work or find a way to get rid of it. Using backgrounds properly can be tricky, but before long you'll soon start using them effectively without even thinking.