A cluttered background can distract the viewer’s attention and unbalance a composition. Unless you want to make the background part of your visual story, make sure you keep the viewer’s attention on the foreground and create a strong focal point.
Making the subject stand out is often used in portrait, sport, fashion, and wildlife photography. These are photographic genres with a powerful and unique subject. But you can choose to diminish the background in any composition with an individual subject or with an unattractive background. Here’s everything you need to know to make your subject stand out.
Use a Shallow Depth of Field
A shallow depth of field restricts the area in focus and blurs the background. It’s one of the most used in-camera techniques for making a subject stand out. You can achieve a shallow depth of field by using telephoto lenses and large apertures (small f-numbers) or by getting really close to your subject. Remember that telephoto lenses can induce camera shake and use a tripod. Also, for correct exposure, when you use large apertures you need to use fast shutter speeds.
You’ll see that most portraits use a shallow depth of field. The person’s face is in sharp focus, while the background is blurred as much as possible.
When you don’t want to blur the background, your subject can stand out if you use a strong contrast. Contrast is usually associated with light but it can be created using colors and textures too. In a wider definition, contrast means any two opposites: white and black, light and dark, yellow and blue, color and gray, young and old, poverty and luxury, natural and industrial, etc.
To make the subject stand out to give it more weight than the background has. Here are some examples: a person with a bright face on a darker background, a red subject on a green background, a blossomed tree on an industrial, gritty background, a vertical subject on a horizontal background.
Use a photo editor
Especially for portraits and fashion photography, post-processing became a standard. Image retouching and manipulation are no longer a secret and many photographers choose to make their subject stand out using the software. It’s relatively easy to blur the background with a photo editor, but you have to make sure you create natural-looking images.
Choose a photo editor that works with layers and masks. Select the background as accurate as possible, zooming in into each part of the image. Blur, adjust colors or change brightness and contrast for the selection you’ve made. Make sure you blend in all the layers and you have high-quality results. Some photo editors allow you to change the background completely and give you even more tools to make your subject stand out. Nevertheless, don’t overdo it.