What is the ‘Background’

When we take a photograph we are almost always going to capture our main subject plus something else behind it. The fact that something looks like it is behind our subject gives the photograph at least some depth. The background is an important part of the shot. So here is a definition…

Definition: Background; Backgrounds

Definition: Background; Backgrounds | Glossary entry


 In photography the background is the part of the overall scene. It’s behind the main subject of the photograph. Proper design and use is crucial to photographic success. Recent trends minimise backgrounds, where possible, to focus on the main subject. Designs try to reduce clutter and distraction to avoid drawing the eye from the subject.

Backgrounds have a long history of careful design. They can involve great artistry, grand constructions or be very simple. It’s best to keep the background and the subject consistent. Styling the subject and the theme with different contexts creates an artistic imbalance. This will lessen the impact of the subject and confuse viewers. When designing scene and lighting consider making the theme consistent and complete. Creating continuity throughout helps the viewer to see a more harmonious and aesthetic image rather than a discordant mess.

A background is normally considered secondary to the subject. This is by virtue of its relative importance compared to the main subject. The main emphasis is placed on the central subject. Nevertheless in landscape photography the background is considered an essential part of the main picture. Landscape photographers try to layer the landscape. They use a foreground, mid-ground and distance (background). Layers provide a feeling of depth. In landscapes the distance may also be the showcase of the shot. It’s both the background AND the main subject.

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