Saturday, 9 April 2016

Photo Technique - clean background

One of the local birders asked me if I always remove the background from images like for the Green-Winged Teal which has now been published in various magazines. This was actually a poorly worded question as it was factually incorrect; the Green-Winged Teal pics had completely natural backgrounds! So the answer, very simply is NO, and I didn't.

Generally speaking I do very little editing to any image other than cropping and noise adjustments, although I will occasionally remove a twig or a fly if I find it really distracts from the intended focus of the image. I can't do that for images published in magazines as they always request a completely unedited image, but will sometimes do it for social media content.

I think the upper of the two images below is the one that was published more heavily so it's likely that this was the one being referred to. There is clearly water in the foreground here, which is showing movement due to the bird swimming; other than that, the water was still and, as such, the background is quite clean. I used the holes in a viewing screen to get as low as possible as this allows me to further emphasise the focus onto the bird by 'throwing' the background further away from the main subject. The lower pic was taken from the hide, which is from a higher viewing angle, and therefore more of the water is in focus here and the background is comparatively 'busy'. It's actually very simple as to why some backgrounds look clean and some don't, but it seems this needs explaining to some.

Another significant part of clean backgrounds is the aperture setting used; an image taken at say f4 will have significantly less depth of field than an image taken at f32. I almost exclusively use my cameras in full manual mode to give me maximum control of all settings and therefore maximum control over the outcome of the image files. Although DSLR cameras will take more pleasing pics than a bridge camera due to sensor performance and better lenses, there is also a heck of a lot more work involved in crafting the final image. I do sometimes carry a bridge camera to accompany my DSLR gear; the convenience of them makes them a fantastic thing to have ready for an opportunistic snap!

Another aspect that affects backgrounds is the wind. If the subject is on water (a lot of mine are) then wind will create disturbance in the background of pics, whether its water directly behind the bird or reeds swaying in the distance. A good way to reduce the impact of this is to pay attention to weather systems and also shoot in the early mornings and late afternoons; these periods are generally the calmest of the day. As it happens, both of the above pics were taken early in the morning - the other advantage of this time is that at first light I usually have the marsh to myself, so human disturbance isn't a problem. The below image shows how one area of water can be sheltered and relatively still compared to another area which can be rough. Again, it's all very simple really!

Another thing Black Hole Marsh is fantastic for is reflections, which again relies on totally still water, but also a specific light source direction. I may do a post on this soon too...

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