Northern Cardinal female, Nikon D800, Nikkor 80-200 F2.8 lens, 1.7x teleconverter.
To achieve the very best from every photographic composition it is very important to assure the subject stands out in the frame. To do this you must manage the background.
There are three basic ways to manage the background: Separate the subject from the background by using a very small Depth of Field; Use contrasting tone values; and Use complementary colors. The more of these effects that are used in a photograph, the more successful that composition becomes.
The first method is to set off or separate the subject from the background by muting all background distractions by using a minimum amount of Depth of Field (or depth of focus). To do this effectively first focus carefully on the subject and use a small F number aperture. The small F numbers provide a very small amount of the scene, both in front of and behind the point of focus that is in acceptable focus.
It is not reasonable to simply use the smallest F number provided by the lens. It is important to have enough DoF to cover the subject in its entirety. Larger subjects require a bit larger DoF.
Here is a comparison. The first image below is of the branch where the cardinal was perched. It was made with a lens at 340mm and at F29. The second image was made at F4.8. The comparison is quite evident. It is also important to remember that the DoF gets smaller as the lens focal length gets longer.
Deep and distracting background above. Few distractions and smooth, pastel background below.
In the next post we will review the second technique, use of contrasting tone values.
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