What surrounds the subject in a photograph can make or break the shot. Get the background wrong (too distracting or cluttered, for instance), and it draws attention away from your subject. Get it right, and it pulls together all of the elements in a photo to create a perfect composition. Here are three ways to improve your backgrounds.

1)  Watch out for competing lines, colors, and patterns. If your subject has strong lines, for example, you want to avoid a background with any sort of line or pattern—it will make your image too busy and confusing. If possible, move your camera or your subject to avoid competition from the background.

2) Blur it out. Can’t avoid a distracting background? Smear out the details with a shallow depth of field by shooting with a lens that has a long focal length or a wide aperture. To make your subject to stand out, or to give your picture a sense of action, try panning with your subject’s movement to create a streaked and blurry background.

3) Fill the frame. The background won’t compete with your subject if you eliminate it altogether. Either zoom in or simply step closer.

—Kathleen Davis
Assistant Editor