What Is Background In Photography?



In the realm of photography, while attention is often garnered by the striking subject at the center, it’s the unsung hero – the background, that often does the heavy lifting to make an image truly shine. In its most elemental sense, the background of a photograph is simply what lies behind the primary subject. However, when viewed through the lens of a seasoned photographer, it takes on a much more critical role, acting as a canvas upon which the subject’s story can unfold.

Imagine a photograph without a background – it would be like reading a novel without any setting to anchor the action. The characters and plot, while compelling, cannot truly engage the reader without the completeness of the world around them. Similarly, the background of any image provides depth, context, and color that accentuates the subject, amplifying the essence of what the photographer aims to communicate.

This article is an exploration into the valuable aspect of photography: backgrounds. Guiding you through the importance of backgrounds, effective ways to choose the right one, and even techniques to create your own, this reading promises to unravel the intricacies of background selection in photography. While this may seem like a lot of technical ground to cover, fear not. This guide is designed to navigate the photographic novice through this fascinating undercurrent of the photography landscape, while providing relevant insights for even a semi-professional looking to add depth to their photographic repertoire.

So, whether you’re an established photographer venturing into new artistic territory or an amateur tinkering with a blend of elements to create a worthy shot, tightening the focus on the background is always a step in the right direction. After all, it’s not just about the face, but also the place.

Importance of Backgrounds in Photography

As a painter works on a canvas, a photographer shoots on a background that helps to shape the image’s narrative and serves as the basis for visual storytelling. The background of a photograph, subtly or overtly, plays an integral role in how visual information is interpreted by the viewer. It enrobes the application of technical skill and the expression of artistic vision, creating a framework that can make or break the overall photo outcome.

A noteworthy observation, affirmed by renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz, is that a background significantly contributes to the mood of an image. It imparts a specific feel to the photo, which can range from tranquil and serene to edgy and intense, depending on the chosen scene. As photographers, it’s our task to adjust our backgrounds depending on what mood and atmosphere we wish to evoke.

Furthermore, a well-selected background directs the viewer’s attention to the focal point of your photograph — typically the main subject. This can be achieved by using backgrounds that contrast with your subject, either through color, texture, or light. An example to illustrate this might be snapping a warm-toned subject against a cool-toned backdrop. The contrast here seamlessly directs the viewer’s eye to the subject, achieving a focused and impactful result.

Backgrounds also frame and encapsulate your subject, quite like a stage for a performance. They offer context, adding narrative depth to the visuals and breathing life into static images. Imagine a portrait shot with nondescript, blurred greenery in the background, comparing it with one set against a vibrant cityscape. The viewer’s understanding of the subject changes dramatically, doesn’t it? It’s almost like two different tales, spun by changing backdrops alone.

In conclusion, a background is more than just a large part of your frame. It’s a pivotal and strategic component that adds depth, context, and aesthetics to your picture. Mastering the art of background selection and manipulation can transform your photographs from ordinary to exceptional. Keeping these facts tucked in your mental toolkit, let’s venture into the nuances of picking the right background for your shots in the next section.

Choosing the Right Background

When it comes to photography, backgrounds are more than just a space filler behind your subject. They are an integral part of the story you’re trying to tell with your image. In this regard, choosing the correct background can often feel like a puzzle. It involves considering various factors such as theme, lighting, color, and setting that will complement your subject. If you get it right, the right background can elevate your photograph from ordinary to extraordinary.

Indeed, the overall theme of your photograph is the first element you should consider while choosing its background. An urban backdrop might work well for a portrait that aims to capture the raw energy of city life. However, the same backdrop could distract from a serene, contemplative portrait, calling for a more natural or simplistic background instead.

Meanwhile, lighting in your background can also make or break your image. Soft, diffused light can create stunning portraits when paired with a lightly colored background, providing a subtle glow to the scene. Conversely, harsh, direct light can create dramatic shadows and intriguing contrasts, particularly against darker backgrounds.

Similarly, color is a powerful tool in photography that helps communicate emotions and moods. While a vibrant, brightly colored background might add a dynamic and energetic feel to a photo, a monotone or neutral background can help emphasize the subject and create a more focused mood. Remember, color should always serve to enhance your subject rather than steal its thunder.

The setting of your photo, whether it’s an indoor studio or an outdoor locale, also plays a crucial role in selecting your background. In a studio setting, you have complete control over every aspect, allowing you to create the optimal background for your subject. On the other hand, shooting outside is a double-edged sword. It gives the opportunity to utilize the natural surroundings to create stunning backgrounds but also presents unpredictable conditions which can challenge your photography prowess.

Remember, finding the right background is not always about locating the most beautiful backdrop. Instead, it’s about finding a background that harmonizes with your subject and theme which in turn helps convey your intended message more effectively. While getting it right might feel tricky, spending some time mastering this skill will definitely pay dividends and add that “wow” factor to your photos. After all, as the old adage goes, practice makes perfect. So, let’s dive into the next section: creating custom backgrounds!

Creating Custom Backgrounds

In photography, imposing a sense of individuality is crucial to the art form. This often involves thinking outside the box, pushing boundaries and getting your hands dirty in the creative process. One way to do this is to create your own backgrounds. Whether you’re shooting in a studio or outside, there are several tips and techniques you can bank on.

In-studio Techniques

In the comfort of a studio, control is the operative word. You manage everything, from lighting to the color of the background.

  1. Use of Colorful Fabrics: Fabric backgrounds offer limitless color options, and their textures can add depth and character to your photos. You can easily adjust these fabrics to create a smooth or ruffled look.
  2. Painted Walls: If you have an accessible wall, why not paint it? The beauty of a painted wall is the control it provides. You can opt for solid colors, or for a bit more flair, create a gradient effect. Remember, the color you choose can significantly influence the mood of your photographs.
  3. Projector Use: This technologically forward option allows for immense versatility. You can project any image or pattern onto a plain wall. It can be anything from a rainforest scene to a retro geometric pattern.

Outdoor Techniques

Outside, you have less control. However, you have the benefit of natural light and an endless supply of potential background locations.

  1. Location Scouting: Time, diligence and imagination are key. Adventure a bit and scout for unique places. From graffiti-covered walls to fallen autumn leaves, there are numerous treasures to be found. An often-overlooked trick is to revisit locations during different seasons and times of the day to discover new perspectives.
  2. Use of Natural Elements: A grove of trees, a clutter of bushes, or even a textured rock face can form a unique and interesting background.
  3. Portable Backdrops: For those occasions where nature doesn’t cooperate, or you’re looking for a little more control, portable backdrops are a great solution. These can range from simple colored tarps to intricately designed roll-up scenes.

It’s not always easy, but overcoming obstacles to create custom backgrounds is fulfilling. In fact, it’s like putting down the bass guitar and standing front and center, belting out your own lyrics. By taking a hands-on approach to your background, you’re adding a personal touch to every shot. This creativity gives your pieces a distinctive characteristic, building your unique brand as a photographer. Next, we’ll wrap up with some key takeaways from the role of backgrounds in photography.


As we reach the end of our exploration into the backdrop’s contribution to the art of photography, it’s clear that backgrounds serve more purpose than mere visual fillers. They are the silent narrators of our photographic story, contributing to mood, focus, and framing. Understanding how diverse elements interplay – how the choice of a theme, the manipulation of lighting conditions, or the selection of color schemes can drastically influence this narrative – is a valuable skill in this field.

Keep in mind the professional photographers whose stunning images we admired and discussed throughout this article. Their skillful leveraging of backgrounds spoke volumes about the subject without needing a caption. It’s how the tranquil blue of an ocean backdrop softened the intensity of a sun-soaked subject, how an explosion of city lights in a night scene ignited action in a still frame, or how a stark white background in studio photography threw the subject into unchallenged focus.

However, don’t limit yourselves to merely choosing among available backgrounds. Creating custom backdrops not only provides a unique narrative platform for your images but also generates a broad canvas for innovation and experimentation. Armed with commonly available materials and simple techniques for modifying light, you can craft the backdrop that best conveys your creative vision, whether you’re operating in a professional studio or in the great outdoors.

The thoughtful application of the knowledge shared in this article will undeniably enhance both the aesthetic and emotional depth of your photography. As you try new approaches or refine existing ones, remember these tips and techniques as ways to further stimulate your photographic potential and open doors to yet unexplored avenues.

And now that we’ve covered the significance and handling of the photographic background, stay tuned for our upcoming exploration of another critical compositional element – the foreground. In the vein of background, it serves as an equally compelling catalyst for refining your imagery and further unleashing your creative potential. Until then, keep experimenting and enhancing your much-lauded craft in the engaging field of photography. Remember, every improvement you make brings you closer to capturing that perfect shot.

The Creativv
American digital marketer and founder of TheCreativv.com with over a decade of experience in event, travel, portrait, product, and cityscape photography.