Tip of the Week
Friday, March 22, 2013

Simplify The Background With Lens Choice

By William Sawalich Published in Tip Of The Week
Simplify The Background With Lens Choice
When you first start taking pictures you concentrate on the subject, making sure it's well-focused, positioned appropriately in the frame, well-lit and so on. But soon you realize, as we all do, that concentrating on the subject isn't enough. Frequently we learn this when some element of a background—a palm tree, maybe, or a telephone pole—appears to grow strangely out of a subject's head. This is, generally speaking, not good. So, we learn to start paying attention to the background. And the main thing we work on is simplifying it.

A busy background competes for attention, drawing viewers' eyes away from the subject. So, photographers learn—some more quickly than others—to simplify the background. Frequently this is done by recomposing a scene, repositioning the camera so that what was an offending background is now a nice, clean backdrop on which to photograph the subject. But, there can be an even better, even simpler way to assure that your backgrounds are cleaner and simpler than ever: to ensure that they're well out of focus.

Making backgrounds out of focus is simple enough. You just start with a wide-open aperture—say f/2 or f/2.8, for instance—and you'll find that the background is much less sharp than it would be at f/8, f/16 or, heaven forbid, f/32. For a simple background, starting with a wide aperture is a recipe for success. But, it's still not a guarantee. For that, you need to change lenses.

The combination of a telephoto lens and a wide-open aperture will create compressed backgrounds that are out of focus due to super-shallow depth of field. This is a greaa way to eliminate any distraction from behind the subject. But, isn't there a problem? Isn't a 70mm lens going to look dramatically different than a 24mm lens? Obviously, yes. But, when you move your feet, you can keep the subject size the same. Up close, with a 24mm lens, you can fill the frame with a subject's face, just as you can from farther away with that 70mm lens. The relative sizes might be the same, but the backgrounds will be dramatically different. So, whenever possible, use a nice long lens and a wide aperture to minimize depth of field and simplify the background. It's a simple technique, but the effect is quite powerful.

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