Controlling Backgrounds in Macro Photography

by Brenda Tharp

Poppy A
Poppy A
© Brenda Tharp
All Rights Reserved

The Key to Success...

Yet, in all types of macro flower photography, background is key to an imageís success. You want the subject to stand out, not the background. Some people use solid fabrics or black to block out the background entirely; but if you want a natural look, youíre going to have to go with the natural field behind that flower.

Accompanying this article are two examples of the same poppy. In the first image (Poppy A), I chose an aperture of f16 because I wanted the blossom and water drops as sharp as possible. I really liked the red "skirt" at the base of the blossom and that opening into the flower, too. But the background became a little too busy - and even though I gardened a little bit, cleaning up some dead grass stalks and leaves, light areas of highlights out of focus started to become too distracting.

Itís not bad, but the second image (Poppy B) has a better, simpler background. I chose an aperture of f10 for it. However, the little red "skirt" is less sharp and the opening area appears a little softer, too. But what a difference in the background.

Poppy B
Poppy B
© Brenda Tharp
All Rights Reserved

DOF Preview Button...

In making these pictures, I used my depth of field preview button to get a sense of what the background would be like. I move the focus back and forth while holding in that button, trying to see the changes in the background and settling on an aperture that gives me the best compromise.

I canít live without that button for this type of picture, yet itís not easy to see the image at f10 or f16. I throw a dark cloth over my head so my eyes will adjust to the darkened image in the viewfinder, and then I can see so much better. Still, I usually make a few exposures at close, yet different apertures that make the background look good while keeping the subject sharp, too. Then, I review them on my computer to make the final decision.


Getting It Right ... in the Field

Yes, you can use the computer and Gaussian blur that background, but I prefer to get most of my work done while making the picture, so I have more time in the field photographing than in the office doing Photoshop. Personal choice - and a pride in being able to get it the way I want it in the field.




Article by Brenda Tharp. To learn more about photography, explore the many online photography and Photoshop classes offered here at BetterPhoto.com.