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Photographic Tips - Creating A Dark Background.

Updated on September 2, 2014
White Lilies photo by Bron Praslicka
White Lilies photo by Bron Praslicka

Tip Applies To A Point-and-Shoot Camera As Well.

This particular article is a "how to" article on how to highlight a subject against a black background using natural light and shadow. As a special note the photos used for my step by step example were captured using a Sony Cyber-shot point-and-shoot camera. There is no doubt that there are some amazing features that you can get with an expense SLR camera - however- I would like to stress that there are a number of tips or tricks you can use just as easily with a point-and-shoot camera or even the camera on your smartphone.

Just in case you are interested in the specifics I used a Sony Cyber-shot, Model DSC-W350, which comes with 14.1 Megapixels, and a 4x Optical zoom. With the optical lens feature the camera's lens capability is the equivalent of a 26-105mm lens. It also is capable of taking video in 720p MP4 HD Movie Mode. This particular model was introduced in 2010, although you can still find a new one on Amazon for just over $200, or purchase a used one for under $85.

I captured the photos of the white lilies several nears ago. Although it is impossible to tell by the photo the lilies were growing beside a church and I simply used the shadow of the church as a dark background for my photo. Since I don't have lilies growing in the yard right now I though I would simply take a walk through the yard and see that might work for our demonstration.

Fortunately enough, I only had to walk out of my front door this morning and found several wildflowers growing in a front flower bed. There are two plants that show up in the photo below - the large leaves belong to a pea vine which we will ignore for the purpose of this demonstration - and the white flowers belong to a plant that is known as Snow-on-the-Prairie. We are going to use the blossoms (and leaves) from the Snow-on-the-Prairie for our demonstration.

The photo below was taken from about 5 feet away from the flowers using the normal lens setting - in other words I didn't zoom in on the flowers. I also have the camera set on Auto mode - which means I am letting the camera set the lighting and shutter speed for me.

Snow-on-the-Prairie photo by Bron Praslicka
Snow-on-the-Prairie photo by Bron Praslicka

The Use of Light and Shadows.

One thing you will notice in the photo above is that the flowers I am photographing are in the sunlight - and just as important for this particular type of photo - you should take note of the dark shadows in the yard across the street.

In order to create this particular image you need to have a dark background behind the subject. As you might guess this situation may not always be possible, however I find that 7 out of 10 times I can usually manage to find a dark background behind my subject - I just have to be willing to move around the subject until I find what I need behind it. As a side note: the 7 out of 10 times is obviously not a number I would want to be quoted on - but my point is that over half of time I can find a dark background to shoot against.

The first step in creating this shot it to move closer to the subject of your photo. For this example I moved in so that I was about 2 feet away from the flower. Then the second step is to zoom in the camera all the way for an additional close-up. If your camera doesn't have a built in zoom you should still be able to pull this shot off - you just want to be sure the camera is focusing on the flower and not on something in the background. The main reason I like to zoom in all the way if I have zoom capability is that it will cause the camera to blur out anything behind the object it is focusing on.

The following photo is the result of moving in closer and zooming in on the wildflower. You will notice that you can still faintly see the window on the house across the street just to the right of the flower - but is faint enough that it shouldn't be an issue.

Snow-on-the-Prairie photo by Bron Praslicka
Snow-on-the-Prairie photo by Bron Praslicka

Next Comes The Photo Editor.

Although the photo above isn't a bad photo - it isn't really a great photo - but it is about the best we can do with the camera itself. At this point we enhance our photo with an editor. As I mentioned in my previous series on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Photographers my favorite editor is I like Picmonkey for several reason, the first being that it is very easy to use, and the second being that it is free. For $24.95 you can unlock additional features on Picmonkey, but for the basic functionality is more than enough for what we are going to do.

I simply go to and click on "Edit" and then select my photo off of my hard drive, or memory card, where ever you happen to keep your photos. As you can see in the following photo, the first thing I am going to do is simply crop a small area around the flower that I want for my final photo.

Cropping photo using Photo editor
Cropping photo using Photo editor

The Result is a Great Close-up of our Wildflower.

Cropping the photo not only takes out unwanted distractions but it also allows us to zoom in on the main subject. Once you have your main subject cropped you might want to play with the lighting and coloring until you get the final photo that you want.

The result is a really nice close-up of your subject, and since we had the shadow in the background it results in a dark black background that really lets our subject stand out in the photo. You can use this technique on people just as easily. Just find a location with trees or anything that creates a dark shadow and place that behind your subject.

Take time to experiment with this technique and I think you will be surprised how easy it is to create a great looking photo.

Snow-on-the-Prairie photo by Bron Praslicka
Snow-on-the-Prairie photo by Bron Praslicka


Snow-on-the-Prairie (Euphorbia bicolor) is an annual herb in the spurge family and is native to the south central United States. It first appears in early summer and begins to take on its white color in the hottest months of the summer. In the wild the plants will form large colonies sometimes covering several acres of prairie making it appear as if the prairie is covered in snow - which is where the plant got its name.

The plants are easy to transplant or grow from seed. They are not very good for cuttings in that they give off a milky sap when cut, and their pollen can be extremely irritating to individuals who suffer from allergies or hay fever.

If you enjoyed this particular article you might also enjoy a series I recently posted on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Photographers. Much like the article above, the 7 Habits focus more on techniques used by photographers as opposed to relying on expensive cameras and accessories. The following link will take you to the first article on my series on the 7 Habits.


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    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 

      4 years ago from Ljubljana

      Very interesting. I often have a problem with background and 'convincing' the camera to blur it is probably my major concern. I have to be more careful about shadows, I suppose. Simple trick and, judging by your stunning photos, very effective. Thank you very much!

    • BronPraslicka profile imageAUTHOR

      Bron Praslicka 

      4 years ago from Dallas / Fort Worth area of Texas

      Thanks - its a great site

    • pranjalisaravade profile image

      Pranjali S 

      4 years ago from Florida

      I had neevr heard of editor. Thanks for sharing...the pics are beautiful


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