Isolating the Subject

Isolating the subject can assist in moving the viewers attention from the background to the main subject. In the case of the image below an aperture setting of f/4.0 and a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second was used. This low aperture with a 105mm telephoto lens helps to throw the background out of focus.  The lower the aperture used the more the background will be out of focus. Long telephoto lenses will always tend to reduce the depth of field.  In the image below even the outer petals of the flower are starting to go out of focus due to the narrow depth of field.

In addition to the depth of field a dark background can also assist in isolating the subject by allowing it to stand out from the background.


If you are taking an image of a subject, then ask yourself, why you are photographing that subject.  It can be answered, in that you are taking the image of the subject because you want that subject to stand out in the final image and to create as much impact as possible.

Isolating your subject is a great technique to simplify and add lots of interest and impact to your photos.

In your photography there is one very important thing and that is making the subject the clear focus point of the photo.

Capturing The Image

There are many methods you can use which we will summarise as follows:

  • Get rid of all distractions so that the viewer’s attention is drawn to where you want it, which is right at the subject.
  • Sometimes a very bright colour will emphasise the subject.
  • Isolating your subject by focus control is fantastic to isolate the subject, it really does help to make your subject stand out from the background.  If you have a lens which goes to a very wide aperture (probably f/1.2 to f/2.0), this allows you to have an image where your subject is in focus, but the background really goes out of focus.  This is a great technique.  If your lens can go down to f/1.2 or f/1.4 this setting has an extreme effect to blur the background.  The low aperture lenses to do this are generally prime, fixed focus lenses.  The distance from camera to the subject and also the distance from the subject to the distant background also has an effect on the amount of blur.  Most cameras have an aperture priority mode to get this effect by controlling the aperture directly.
  • Change the angle of view to emphasise the subject.  Changing the angle of view will also change the relationship between the subject and the background.  Try doing this to select a background which is uncluttered.
  • Move around your subject and look at it from other angles, higher or lower, left or right, check the background in the viewfinder as you move around.
  • Shoot from a very low angle, even very close to the ground.  Again check the viewfinder as you move around.
  • You can move your subject to a different spot and if you can not move the subject then try to move the clutter objects around the subject.
  • You can tidy up the scene around the subject by moving any distractions out of the frame area.
  • Use a technique such as panning.  If you pan with a moving subject, the background will become blurred if you use a low shutter speed and this will isolate and place more emphasis on the subject.
  • Changing you cameras format from landscape to portrait or from portrait to landscape may help to fill the frame with the subject, thus isolating the subject.
  • Try to make the image of the subject bigger.  You can zoom with your camera lens or you can zoom with your feet, you may even need to swap over your camera lens.  Get closer to the subject and make it bigger in the frame.  I photograph lots of birds and always I try to get as close as possible to the subject.  With animals and birds get as close as possible without disturbing the subject.
  • With bird photography try to get the sky in the background, the sky is generally always uncluttered even when there are out of focus clouds in the background.
  • With digital cameras you can take a few images of the subject and then review them.  On review, if there is too much detail in the images, then retake the image and before you do, rearrange the subject to get rid of the surplus detail not required.
  • If you are out at a restaurant or coffee shop and you want to photograph your delicious food or drinks, then try to make the subject stand out, by tidying up the scene around the subject on the table to make the subject the center of attention.  Move other things out of the scene and you will finish up with a stunning scene with the food of your choice or your coffee the center of attention.
  • One important technique for still life and portrait photography is to use a very low f stop number and focus on an important part of the subject, if you do this, sometimes it does not matter if a small part of the subject is not quite in focus.  This technique will result in the background being blurred out, once things in the image are blurred out they do not become distracting from the main subject.
  • The creative use of lighting can emphasise the subject, an example of this is back lighting or rim lighting.

Post Processing Changes

  • Some changes with post processing such as varying the contrast, exposure, clarity and detail will assist to make your subject stand out.
  • With post processing you can selectively change certain areas of your image, change the look of the subject or change the look of the foreground and change the look of the background selectively as in the following points:
    • Sharpen the subject,
    • Blur the background,
    • Brighten the subject,
    • Darken the background,
    • Lighten the background,
    • Add contrast to an area,
    • Reduce the detail in bright areas,
    • Reduce detail in the dark areas,
    • There are many other changes you can make selectively with the post processing software, allyou need is to use your imagination.

Sometimes you may want to forget all the above rules and get the whole image in focus.  This approach is quite common for some images such as landscapes or seascapes, it is alright to take this approach for some images. Sometimes also with macro images you may want to get the whole image in focus.