Today's Fotog Friday is sponsored by the I-wish-I-had-figured-this-out-sooner camp. Seriously. This is something I am still working on and figuring out, but something happened last weekend during the wedding I was shooting that really made me think about how I approach this topic. Ironically enough, it also really relates to last week's Fotog Friday post where I examined the big difference that making small changes in your posing can make! In the same way, making small changes to minimize distractions can also make a BIG impact on your images. Here are some examples of ways I've tried to do that, and also some examples of when I completely failed to notice something was wrong.
This past Saturday, I was photographing a bride getting into her dress. Initially we were put in the basement of the church, and even though we were next to the kitchen, the room was big and open with lots of natural light pouring in. Moments before she put on her dress, the church coordinator moved us all into this tiny choir room so they could bring the crowded guests into the basement to have more room to mingle before the ceremony. All of a sudden I have a PIANO in my way, a tiny window that looks out toward two groundhogs, and racks and racks of blue choir robes. We moved the piano as much as we could, but once the bride got dressed, I wanted to utilize this tiny window for a few portraits. I snapped a couple and I thought to myself, "If only those ugly blue choir robes weren't there." So what did I do?! I MOVED THEM.
Granted, these images are in black and white, but regardless, you can see the impact of having a simple background versus falling under the camp of "use what you've got" and having an image you don't LOVE. My philosophy is that it is ALWAYS worth the change, if you think it'll improve your image.
Many times it's much smaller than moving an entire rack of clothing, sometimes it happens as easily as changing your perspective. One of the reasons I love shooting only prime lenses is that it forces me to MOVE around a LOT! By doing this, I am not only moving in and out to "zoom" with my body, but being in the habit of moving also encourages me to move side to side. Here is a perfect example:
Anyone who has shot during the cherry blossom festival knows that you are facing TONS of PEOPLE. I mean... like mobs and mobs of people. By simply taking a few steps to my left and shooting Cary and Daniel toward the water instead of toward the sidewalk, I've minimized the crowd and given the illusion that they are the only two people in the world.
Same thing here - a little scoot to the left and BOOM my background is no longer a distraction.
Sometimes minimizing your background distractions means cropping in camera... for example:
Thea and Aaron were on the mall and there was a kickball tournament in the background. Everyone was wearing a neon-colored shirt. Talk about distracting! I couldn't have the people move, and I wanted this tree... and there were people EVERYWHERE, so in order to minimize them, I cropped my image in camera to remove as many of them as possible...
There are still just as many people in the background, but now you can't see them hardly at all.
Another thing I've learned is that sometimes squatting up and down can make a BIG difference! For example, in the above image, pay attention to the field and the line of trees, and the people you see in the background.
Besides the fact that this image is cropped differently, if you notice the field and the line of trees, they are more hidden because I took this image from a slightly lower angle. You always have to be careful with shooting low because it's usually unflattering for most people, but in this case it served to eliminate the distractions of neon-colored kickball players in the background and focus the image more on my subjects.
Here are some examples of when I flat-out failed to notice something distracting in my background. These are the moments where I wish I had been paying more attention, but there is only so much you can do to fix something like this after you shoot it.
Before the wedding, I took a few images of Jaimie in this really cool breezeway in the church. It had beautiful natural light pouring in and I wanted to take some portraits of her, but the windows were COVERED in colored paint! I knew my only option was to shoot down the hall to eliminate the colored paint, but what I failed to notice the ENTIRE time was this bright blue recycling bin in the background! Because everything else in the background is more neutral, it really sticks out. My solution? I had to make this image black and white to eliminate the color distraction.
When my second shooter pointed out the distraction, we were running short on time so I moved over and used the shelf next to Jaimie to HIDE the blue bin (instead of taking the time to move it - we were on a time crunch) simply by moving to my left. Mission accomplished, but I didn't get any full-body shots from this angle with the blue bin being hidden. Fortunately black and whites eliminate color distractions, and it's a good last resort so you can still use the image.
Another complete fail for me was during Casey and Jared's engagement shoot. I failed to notice the entire time they were sitting at this cute cafe table that a woman was sitting inside on her laptop. She is even LOOKING AT US in some of the images - talk about distracting! If I had been paying more attention, I would've moved slightly left to use the menu to hide her face (or if I had been really bold, maybe asked her to move for a few minutes) but, alas, I didn't even notice until I was editing the image later on.
Take it from me, it is ALWAYS worth it to change what is distracting in your image, otherwise you'll wonder "what if" about that moment. It may mean dropping your camera to drag a rack of choir robes, or simply taking a step to your right to minimize a ton of people, but pay attention to what is going on in your image. I wrote this post partially as a reminder to myself because this is something I still forget to do so many times. I'm so focused on my subjects and making them look good that I fail to notice if a bright blue car is parked in the background. Take time to scan your frame and look out for distractions and do whatever you need to do to minimize them. The point is to draw all of the attention to your subjects, and minimizing distractions is one of the BEST ways you can do this!