Saturday, March 8, 2014

Macro Fakery: Background Creation

Close-Up Flower with Scrapbooking Paper Background | Boost Your Photography
Flower photographed with 50 mm f/1.8 lens and 10x close-up lens.

Here is the secret to amazing macro and close-up photographs: many photographers cheat.

Ok, ok, there are not exactly rules to photography, but if you are wondering why your bug, flower, insect, or other close-up shots are not quite looking the same as the ones you admire, there is an easy reason. That other photographer knows how to optimize the scene.

Read any book or blog about macro or close-up photography, and you will soon realize that you need to "create" the scene you are photographing as much as you need to find it. All types of photography involve working the scene - finding the best angles, perspective, and composition for what you want to capture. But with macro photography, you are working with such small subjects and such minuscule compositions, that you have a lot more leeway. (Read more Tips to Improve Your Macro Photography.) This post will look at one easy way to immediately improve your macro and close-up photographs - pay attention to the background and cheat as necessary.

Background: Move Your Feet 

Although the photographer's eye is most often drawn towards the subject, it is the background that will make or break your final image. Always be on the alert for times when you become so focused and intent on your subject that you forget to review or even glance at the background and how it is rendered as part of your photographs.  An earlier blog post dealt with the idea of paying attention to the background in general: Remember the Background and Move Your Feet. Often times, your background problems can be solved with just a minimum of legwork. 

Move to Choose Your Background | Boost Your Photography

Areas of light and dark in the background of your image can compete with your subject in unhelpful ways. In the top photograph above, the bright lights and blur of the background flowers is quite pretty, but it is also quite distracting. It is difficult to distinguish the foreground, in-focus flowers from the background, and there is a large, blank section of dark in the upper left corner.

Moving myself just slightly led to the second composition, below. Now, the in-focus flowers, the subject of the photograph, are strikingly contrasted against the darker area of the background. The bright lights and blur are still an element of the image, but it is now much easier to see and appreciate the subject matter.

Sometimes, however, you can take your solutions even one step further. This is where truly manipulating the background comes into play ...

Background Creation

There are two ways to go about this method of background-perfecting: you can fix the background or you can move your subject. Many photographers are not above digging up, cutting, or otherwise rearranging flowers, for example, whether in a bouquet at home or in a ditch along the road side. Read just a little into the 'how to' behind a remarkable flower shot, and you might be amazed at how much effort has gone in to both find and then create the final scene.

If you are already shooting cut flowers, your options for background fixing become infinite. An earlier post has already covered the ease with which a common tri-fold board can be used for a photography background and reflector: Easy Photography Upgrade: the tri-fold board.

But why be content with simply adding a plain old white or black background? Tri-fold boards come in many colors, offering many possibilities for contrasting or complementary backgrounds for your images.

Create a Custom Photography Background | Boost Your Photography

When shooting macro and close-up photography, you are in luck. The area covered in a typical close-up shot is often so small, that you can use much smaller papers to create your backdrop. The collage above shows the setup for the close-up flower shot and the surprising twist about the background - a simple 12x12 inch shamrock-decorated piece of scrapbook paper. The photograph at the opening of this article? A faux water scene with waves.

Backgrounds in Macro Photography: Fake It or Just Make It

Backgrounds are a critical part of any photograph but can often make or break a macro or close-up image. Spend some time considering the background before you start shooting. Think about whether you can move slightly and recompose or shoot with a different length lens or from a different perspective. These simple steps could resolve your background problems in the field. Or, simply control the background entirely by substituting your own. Tri-folds and scrapbooking paper allow for infinite variation and are inexpensive and easy to use. How has paying attention to the backgrounds made an impact in your photography?

Want more great ideas? Follow Boost Your Photography on Pinterest: Boost Your Photography

This post linked to on
Lil' Mrs. Tori and at It's Party Time and
Tips and Tricks Linky.

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