Choose the Right Background for Your Photo Shoot

Many photographers spend a lot of time in selecting the right model, discussing her wardrobe, hairstyle, makeup, and what have you. Yet, they tend to overlook a very important aspect: the background.

how to choose a background for photos

Photo by April C.

This is a vital part of any photographic setup and needs the proper attention. It can make or break the composition, feel, and dynamics of a photograph. Are you still not sure about the importance in choosing the right background?

In the following article, I want to bring to your attention two important factors that we tend to fail to notice when choosing a background. These can apply for both outdoor and indoor photo shoots, though since most of my work is done outdoors, I will focus mainly on outdoor situations.

Excessive Background Noise

From my experience, I have learned that the simpler a photograph is the better. By this I mean, when shooting a model you aim to have a background that complements your model not competes with her. Let us consider a scenario in which you are to shoot a model in a cowboy costume. To complement the model, you decide to shoot the session on a farm. You are faced up with two choices. In your first option, the model poses inside an old barn, with bails of straw and a couple of tools in the background. As a second choice, the model sits on a tractor with horses grazing in the backdrop.

You can realize that in the second instance there are too many things going on. The massiveness of the tractor and the moving horses are likely to overpower your model. On the contrary, inside the barn the background is not stealing the viewer’s attention but rather it directs it toward the model.

Always keep in mind that your choice of background never overshadows your main subject: your model.

Conflicting Messages

Have you ever tried to convey a message through your photos but the results said otherwise? One evening I received a call from a friend telling me that he had some great pictures that wanted to share with me. He said he had found this ‘great’ shooting location.

Upon seeing the photos I was terrified. The location looked more like a damping site than the countryside he was trying to portrait. To be fair there was a beautiful pond surrounded by fantastic weeping willow trees, but the copious amount of damp scattered all over the area was a shame.

Do you sincerely think that a glamorous shoot can be done in such a location? Such a situation could be termed as juxtaposition, meaning that the message conveyed would say that the model and the whole set is purely rubbish.

This kind of situation is observed in my magazines and newspapers, sometimes intentionally other times out of neglect or lack of knowledge. Keep your eyes wide open for these kinds of circumstances.


As you can see, in choosing the right background there is more than just colors, shapes, and shades. It is a complex scenario in which conflicting details and complementary elements all play a part in your final product.

About the Author:
Michael Abela ( is a member of the Malta Photographic Society (MPS), a public speaker and an article writer for various entities.

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