Monday, September 11, 2006


One of the things they teach budding photographers is to compose pictures carefully. Not a single detail can be overlooked if one is to be successful at capturing the “perfect” image.

The relationship of foreground to background is critical. Generally, the foreground compositional elements are the most important. Lighting and positioning these elements properly draws the eye to the desired portions of the photograph.

This is not to say that backgrounds are unimportant. Woody Allen, in particular, has practically made a career out of directing scenes that have - for example - two characters in the foreground having a conversation, while unrelated (and extremely humorous) action takes place in the background. In these scenes, it’s the background that is really the intended focus of attention.

But in most cases, the background elements of a photograph are not the most important. All we really want is for the background to enhance the composition without distracting from the appeal of the foreground subject. How many of us have taken what we thought were great pictures, only to have a potted plant appear to be sprouting from Uncle Herman’s head?

The solution?

Pay close attention to the entire image - not just the subject - as you frame your shot.

Here’s an example of how easy it is to go astray.

Elder Daughter with the ’Rents de SWMBO
Elder Daughter with SWMBO’s Dad and Mom - 1979.

A lovely snapshot of the grandparents holding the new baby...or is it?

Careful examination shows the presence of an unwanted Background Distraction.

Distracting background Element

As you look at the photograph, you cannot help but think, “What is that? that a dog? Be damned if it isn’t! Damned if it isn’t a dog copping a squat! Son of a bitch!”

This is not what you want your blue-haired Aunt Tillie to be thinking as you pass around the baby pictures, no, no.

Another example: Here’s a pleasant enough candid photograph of a well-known Online Journalist.

Velociman in a State of Relaxation

However, careful examination reveals the presence of a distracting visual element in the background.

Distracting Background Element

What is Aunt Tillie going to be thinking as she looks at this otherwise fine photograph? “Oh, what a charming young man! Such a thoughtful, intelligent expression! But...but...what’s that behind him? looks is! Albino’s Pego, apparently forcibly removed! Left to languish on the muddy banks of the Chattahoochee! How horrible! Why, I do believe this photograph has given me the vapors!”

After having seen this picture, it wouldn’t be a bit surprising if Aunt Tillie disowned your sorry ass. She does not care for the vapors and resents you giving them to her.

A Huge, Dick-Shaped Fungus

Damn! It does look like an albino’s Cock ’n’ Balls, though, doesn’t it?

Where were we? Oh, yes. Pay attention to the background when you take a picture!

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