In praise of photo context – how to scrapbook photos with busy backgrounds
by Debbie Hodge
The first place to think about what’s going into your photo is when you’re composing it on your camera’s viewfinder. Today, though, with digital photos and photo-editing software readily available to most of us, we can (and do) zoom and crop easily — many times cropping out background and zooming right in on the subject’s face. This kind of cropping is especially tempting when there are messy counters in the background that make presenting your ideal life tricky.
Today, though, we’re talking about thinking of the background as a potential source of valuable context as well as how to work with that “context” when it’s a little messy.
keep your background when:
- it provides detail that supports your story and clarifies the setting (i.e., the pavilion where the church picnic was held in the background of a three-legged competition)
- its content will trigger memories (“Mom always had a glass of diet coke somewhere near her.”
- its content provides context that identifies eras later (i.e., “Oh, remember that car? It was one of the first Pintos”)
- it’s just how life is (i.e., the messy counters)
working with backgrounds that aren’t so great:
- enlarge the photo, then cover parts of the background with title and/or embellishments while letting the details you want to keep show.
- use a vignette in photo-editing software to select and then emphasize your subject (perhaps by making this area brighter) against a busy background.
- use multiple photos — one engaging close up and smaller supporting photos with the background context
- crop at an angle that emphasizes your subject and still presents the background (see “My Inheritance” on the previous page).
- blur the line between where the photo ends and the canvas begins using digital masks and brushes or with good old sandpaper, distressing outer edges of photo.
turning your photo background into an opportunity:
- emphasize your background by bringing page elements that are relevant to your background’s context into it.
- extend your background out onto the canvas. The lines and items in your photos provide opportunities to use creative techniques that extend the context outside of the actual photo.