All Photos © 2004, Jack Hollingsworth, All Rights Reserved
I was talking with an editor friend of mine recently. He sees a lot of photographs--most
of them taken by professionals, but some by amateurs. Every once in a while
he's involved in judging amateurs' photos for online photo contests.
He was telling me that many of the contest pictures he sees are ruined by distracting
backgrounds. He said, "Don't people know how to compose?"
this photo the background was supposed to be the subject, but
I was stuck with a pretty dismal day, gray and overcast, at the
Great Wall of China at Bedaling. The first thing I needed to do
was add some color. Fortunately, there was a vendor nearby, so
I bought a blue umbrella and placed it in the corner of the frame
so it would catch the viewer's attention and then lead the
eye right up the steps of the wall. So the subject became the
background, and I composed the picture to direct the viewer's
eye just where I wanted it to go.
I held onto the umbrella, packed it in my tripod bag and took
it along, and I got to use it again on that trip, this time in
the photo of the young woman on a street in Beijing. Where she's
standing is the key to the picture. She's off-center for
a more dynamic composition, and your eye goes right to her--and
then is led to the color and pattern of the background.
Most of the time I don't think it's a question of deliberate compositional
choices. I think that people who take pictures with distracting backgrounds
in them just don't notice what's going on behind their subject.
One sure way of eliminating the problem is to think about where you want your
viewer's eye to go. Directing the viewer's eye forces you to be
aware of your subject's location and what's going on in the background.
Successful photographers know how to create compositions that lead the viewer's
eye exactly where they want it to go. They compose to draw attention to the
subject, and they use backgrounds to enhance the picture to be neutral.
background that could have been distracting becomes complementary
in the photo of these two women at the table in Singapore. I couldn't
get rid of the riot of color behind them, so I used it by making
them large in the frame to instantly draw the eye, and then blurring
the background so it becomes all about color and not any individual
item or form. The same thing goes for the photo of the woman in
the market, also taken in Singapore. She's the main attraction,
and the background adds to the mood and feel of the place.