Work That Background

Posted: December 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

If you want a nice smooth solid color background behind your flower or bug photos, you have to work the background.

Here is that nice solid background that allows the subject to really pop and stand out.


Look for a flower that is isolated and away from as much clutter as possible.  When you set up your tripod, find the line of view that will position the background as far away as possible, as this will make it easier to blur the background.  Depending on how far away the background is will determine what f/stop you choose.  If the background is very close to the subject, you will have to use an f/stop in the lower range, like f/2.8 up to 5.6.  The drawback to using such a low f-stop number is you will be sacrificing some focus on the flower, as the limited depth of field will only give you a small portion of the flower in focus.

Lets say you can find a line of view were the background is  ten to twenty feet away, you can now use an f/stop in the f/8 to maybe f/16 range, which will allow more depth of field and more of the flower in focus while maintaining a blurred background.

Maybe you can find an angle where the background is thirty to fifty feet away, now you can go even higher on your f/stop in the f/16 to f/22 and get the whole flower in focus while blurring out the background.

The farther away the background, the higher the f/stop.  When shooting in a higher f/stop number, if the background is far enough away, the extra depth of field from the higher f/stop will not be able to capture any details and just blur the background into a solid color.


I set up a sunflower and used a printed background of some clutter that I shot in a field. I placed the print of the clutter behind the flower, and shot it at different distances behind the subject to show how it effects the blur of the background.

Here is the image of the clutter that I printed and used as the background. You can see it’s a pretty cluttered mess that would cause a very distracting background.


In this first image, I set the printed background at two feet behind the sunflower. I was using my 180mm macro lens and the  f/stop was set at 3.5 . The camera does a decent job blurring all that clutter, but we don’t get that solid look with the clutter this close to the subject.


In the second image I moved the background to three feet away. You will see a little less blotches and a smoother look.


In the third test shot,  the background is now at four feet behind the subject, and again the blur is a little better.


The fourth image has the background set at five feet away, and as you can see the farther away it gets, the better the blur.


This is what I am talking about when I say work the background, as you have to locate the subject that presents itself with a background that is as far away as possible. You have to study the subject at all angles to find the view that will present the background at the farther distance away. The farther away the background is, the higher you can set your f/stop, and the more depth of field and focus you will have on your flower.  Do this and you will have nice clean backgrounds that will enhance your main subject rather then be a distraction.

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  1. Julie Pasta says:

    Love this topic!
    Any tips for when photographing moving objects…like butterflies. I usually have to be really quick and can’t be picky about my background. I like shooting wide open and I like the blurred look, but lately have been wishing my entire butterfly was in focus so you can see all the detail. I do try to get low and shoot up or to the side of the plant it’s sitting on so that i’m more likely to get my yard in the background instead of more of the plant/flower.

    Thanks, Julie

    • Mike Moats says:

      Hey Julie, with butterflies which are very active, unfortunately you are at a disadvantage because to don’t have time to work the angles like you do with a stationary subject. You just have to do the best you can to evaluate the best angle as quickly as possible, but easier said then done. That’s why you don;t see many butterfly images on my site, I don;t have the patience it takes to shoot these guys. One tip that I can give you that I use with dragonflies, is to shoot at daybreak on cold or cool mornings, as the little critters are not moving as their body temps dip down during the cool night air. So they stay put until the warm up, and it give you some time to set-up your shot.

  2. beautiful flowers in the first photograph, and the sunflower photos really help to make your point. thanks

  3. Julie Pasta says:

    Thanks for the tip, Mike! That might be true for butterflies, too! I do know that when they first come out of their chrysalis and are still drying their wings, it’s a really good time to shoot them! That’s why I raise them (Monarchs and Black Swallowtail and hopefully this next year, I’ll get some Giant Swallowtails). 🙂 As soon as their wings are open and before they’re ready to fly off, I position them on the flower I want to photograph them on and shoot away. I’ll have to be more aware of my background as I do that. Thanks, again!

    • Mike Moats says:

      Hey Julie, as long as you have control of the environment to can find a flower that you have already predetermined a good angle with a good clean background that is a long way off, and you can set an f-stop at a higher f/stop to get more of the butterfly in focus. Set your your tripod, put him on the special flower and shoot.

      • Julie Pasta says:

        Can’t wait to try it next summer! 🙂 Not sure about this tripod idea, though. I guess I need to practice with it. It seems like it is very confining. I like to hand-hold my camera. Have you always used a tripod?

  4. Mike Moats says:

    I never hand hold, every image I have was shot on a tripod. I can’t say I can name any good macro photographer that doesn’t shoot on a tripod.

  5. Mike Moats says:

    Hey Julie, This year I taught 16 Macro Boot Camps with an average of twenty five people per workshop, so that’s like 400 students and 100% showed up with tripods. Not saying that shooting butterfly like you are doing would be easy to do with a tripod as they are constantly on the move and so are you, but I have seen some great butterfly shoot where the photographer was using a tripod.

  6. Horace Hamilton says:

    Thanks for the continuing stream of educational blogs. You do an excellent job of describing how to enhance images by controlling backgrounds and surrounding
    elements. Many readers, including me, will produce much better images as a result of your sharing.

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