Thinking about the Background

Frequently the difference between a great photo and a so-so photo is the background.

A great background can really make the photo stand out. The subject and background should work together with the other elements in the photo to really grab your attention or draw you into the work.

A lot of professional photographers spend as much time looking for a great background as they do looking for a great subject. It’s just that important in the photo. Figure 1 has a nice subject (Rock Beauty), but the background is poor. The background of this photo doesn’t help at all, in fact, it detracts from the photo.

Figure 1: Rocky Beauty
Figure 1: Rocky Beauty

A neutral or plain background can help draw attention to the subject even if the viewer doesn’t even realize that there is a background in the photo. Like figure 2, a Gray Reef Shark out in the Blue.

Figure 2: Gray Reef Shark

Patterns, such as the patterns in coral, sea fans, sponges, or schools of fish can create interesting backgrounds. Patterns can even be the whole photo. See figure 3 Juvenile Damselfish on Brain Coral.

Figure 3: Juvenile Damselfish or Brain Coral

Colorful backgrounds or subjects can help draw the viewer’s attention to the image. In figure 4 (Flamingo Tongue Snails on Sea Fan), the color of the Purple Sea Fan helps make the snails stand out.

Figure 4: Flamingo Tongue Snails on Sea Fan

So, the next time you get in the water with your camera, take a look at the backgrounds. See if that fish that you’d like to take a picture of, swims over or in front of a nice background. Does that Damselfish hang out over the coral or just hang out in the rubble? Look for backgrounds, patterns and color. You’ll be surprised at the difference it will make in the pictures you bring home.