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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Don't forget the supporting actor

Often in photography we tend to focus on the thing we're looking at. And when I say focus I don't mean 'place the focussing point', I mean really concentrate on.

And we often do it to the detriment of everything else around it. So when we look at our pictures afterwards we suddenly see all these things in the corners of the frame we hadn't noticed before.

A good way to train yourself out of doing this is to pick your background first. Or, if your background is a bright blue sky like it was here in Sukhothai, Thailand, pick what else is going to be in your background.

So for this shot I knew which Buddha statue I wanted to be my main subject. But just like any good drama I needed a supporting actor. Plain old blue sky behind is pretty boring. To choose your background you need to actually walk around. Zooming in and out isn't going to do anything. You need to actually change your position.

By walking left and right, or moving up or down if you can, you can actively change your background. In this particular case the Buddha statue was a lot taller than me so my only choice was a blue sky and something taller again. So I looked behind the statue to find something tall enough to fit in the frame, like a giant chedi.

I then walked around until the chedi was in a supporting role in the background, filling up a bit of that blue sky and giving another point of interest to the composition. Had I walked farther around to the left the chedi would have been in the same position but the Buddha head would have been farther to the right. Had I walked farther to the right the Buddha head would have been overlapping the chedi in the background - something that you want to try and avoid as much as possible.

So before you rush off to photograph the main subject, take a moment to look behind it and see what you can place in the frame as a supporting actor. It will greatly improve your images and help you to imagine interesting compositions where the entire frame is filled with something that helps tell a story.

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