Wednesday, November 8, 2017

"Photography 101: A look at Backgrounds" by Mike Trahan

CAPS has many classes that dive deep into a specific subject. But what if you’re a relatively novice photographer or someone who has more experience but isn’t sure if you have all the essential basics mastered yet? If you fall into those categories, then this class is for you.

We’ll pick out the key practical essentials you need to know to consistently take better pictures. We’ll only get technical where we really have to and only where it matters to you.

Here’s a general outline of what we’ll discuss:
n  Some Fundamentals
         Telling a story / capturing the mood
         Types and quality of light
n  Practical Technical Stuff You Need
n  Gear – Lots of Choices

As Albert Einstein once said, we’ll try to make things as simple as they can be, but no simpler. Let’s take a look at one of the specific topics we’ll cover in the class.


After you’ve picked your main subject, you need to really pay attention to the background. Often we’re so focused on our subject, we forget all about the background. You want to make sure that it doesn’t detract from your subject, clutter the picture for your viewer, or draw their eyes away inappropriately. And sometimes the background can enhance your subject and help tell your story.

So look at these pictures: 

In the first one, there are elements in the background on the left and in the upper right corner that add no value but do add distraction. Plus the one in the upper right is brighter as well and your eyes go naturally to bright areas drawing them away from the subject. In the second picture, changing where we stood eliminated those distractions and is clearly better. Now if my granddaughter would only smile.

Here’s another example where just changing where we held the camera and getting down low made a dramatic difference in the photograph:

And another similar example where getting closer and a little  lower had the same effect:


So your first thought on backgrounds needs to be: SIMPLIFY. Remove distractions where you can.

But a background doesn’t need to be plain or empty. It can add to the picture immensely also. In this next example, we were in a King Penguin colony of over 200,000 birds on South Georgia Island near the Antarctic. I wanted to show an intimate scene of parent birds and their chicks (the brown ones), but also convey a sense of the vast number of birds surrounding them. I hiked to a low ridge where I thought I could isolate a few birds on the back side of the ridge but with a large separation from the other birds giving me the ability to blur them with a lower depth of field. And, viola, the picture I wanted! It reminds me of my kids saying but Dad, one of them did it.

 We’ll cover backgrounds with a few more examples in the class as well as the other key factors you need to know to take better pictures, no matter where and no matter what. See you at CAPS!

Mike Trahan enjoys shooting a wide variety of photos with a special emphasis on nature and birds.  You can check them out at Zenfolio | Michael (Mike) Trahan photos. He's won many honors including the first Stewards of the Upper Mississippi Bald Eagle photo contest, first place winner in the Ottawa National Forest photo contest, and Lake County grand prize winner with a picture used on four 20' x 50' billboards along the expressways.  Mike was the recipient of the 2015 CACCA Kohout award for nature photography teaching.  What really matters though is that he really enjoys photography, sharing what he's learned with you, and having fun doing it.

Mike will be presenting "Photography 101: Taking Better Pictures" at CAPS- Chicago Area Photography School on Sunday, November 19th.

To see the entire schedule of classes go to: or click here:  Home

To register go to:   Chicago Area Photographic School (CAPS) 2017 | Summary | powered by RegOnline

1 comment:

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