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How to Make Your Subject Stand Out From the Background

When making a photograph, every photographer looks for ways to give prominence to his main subject; he would want the viewer’s eyes to focus directly on to his main subject without any distraction from other background elements which compete for attention. But this is easier said than done, as in many situations you will find that there are elements in the scene which are distracting and which you cannot control. So here are some tips that help you make your subject stand out from the background.

1. Vary the Exposures

If possible try to light your subject in such a way that the subject receives at least a stop or two more light than the background. You could achieve this with natural light by placing your subject in direct sunlight with some shady region as the background.  You could also employ reflectors or additional lights to achieve the same. However make sure you expose for the subject, choosing spot metering and taking the reading from the subject will help, for full control over the effect try manual exposure settings.

Photo By Sean Molin

2. Use Shallow Depth of Field to Blur the Background

This is one of the most commonly used techniques by photographers since ages and it works like a charm, in most situations. The techniques involves using a wide aperture setting like f/2.8 or f/4 to achieve shallow depth of field with only the subject in sharp focus and everything else (in both foreground and the background) is rendered in a smooth blur. There are certain things like distance from the camera to the subject and distance from the subject to the background which influence the results, general rule is the more distant the background is from the subject the greater the blur and vice versa. And the closer the camera is to the subject the greater the blur and vice versa.

depth of field
Photo By Carlos

3. Make Use of Contrast

Photographing your subject in front of a contrasting background is one simple technique that will help you make your subject stand out in your shots. Contrast could be achieved by lighting or by selecting contrasting colours.

Photo By Ian

4. Use Scale or Perspective

Make use of scale, you can give the viewer a sense of scale (an idea of how big or small your subject really is) by placing it together with another object which is either much smaller or much larger than your main subject. To give prominence to your subject it is better to shoot it together with another smaller subject.

You could also make use of perspective distortions caused by ultra wide angle lenses to exaggerate your subject. A wide angle lens makes all elements in your frame appear much smaller, the effect is more pronounced for elements which are at a distance from the camera.  So the trick is to use a wide angle lens, place your subject close to the camera (relative to background) and it will give your subject an exaggerated feel with everything else feeling much smaller and distant.
wide angle
Photo By Altus Wilder

5. Make Available Background…….. Unavailable

If none of the above techniques works or if you intentionally wish to have your subject shot with a black background (it works quite well for many subjects) there is a quick fix solution to eliminate distracting backgrounds. 

flower on black background
Photo By Matthew

Power up your lights (Speedlights/Strobes), set your camera to its sync speed, and choose a narrow enough aperture to eliminate all trace of ambient light, there by rendering your background a perfect black.

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