Photography is all about light – and with light comes contrast. Anything that contains contrast – be that color, light, sharpness, anything – will draw attention. And while I plan to give the subject of contrast in its many forms a full length article in the future, a photo I was editing this afternoon gave a wonderful example of why you should take a few moments to clean up the background, and also the foreground or edges of your frame – either before you take the photo – or afterwards in post processing. There was nothing specifically ‘wrong’ with the background of the original image, it was fairly soft and out of focus, the foreground as well was fairly uniformly patterned that would not draw all that much attention from the two aircraft in center frame. However, a few moments with the clone tool in Photoshop significantly improved the uniformity background and removed a few stray elements in the foreground. The result is your eye is no longer even momentarily drawn to a bright reflection of a cellphone screen, or wonders what that is there in the background.
Training yourself to find those small distractions takes some time, and with practice you’ll start picking them up more quickly. One thing I’ve found that helps is that I do the first pass as soon as I get into Photoshop. The time between seeing the image in Lightroom and opening it in Photoshop gives my mind a moment to ‘reset’ and that first viewing I find I’m more easily drawn to seeing the distractions than when I’ve been working on a photo for a while. It’s also a reason I will often get up and come back to an image after a while, or even put the photo aside (saved as a PSD file for further editing) and revisit it later in the day or the next day before the final edit is saved and uploaded. It’s also the very first thing I scan an image for when I’m asked for feedback on an image. If the second thing my eye sees in an image is a dark twig off on the far right of a photo, there’s a good chance most people will also get drawn to it – and a reason to try to eliminate it or at least camouflage it in some way.
As a final thought – for the photo purists out there – that don’t believe in taking anything out of a photo -photography is supposed to tell a story, express a message, if that story is being lost to the ‘noise’ in the photo, then the intent is lost. So unless you’re shooting for a contest or job that explicitly states that nothing can be altered in the photo (I believe National Geographic often falls into this category) – why not take a few small steps to make sure the voice of the photo is heard loud and clear.