Creating Black Backgrounds to Make Your Subject Stand Out

Hey everyone,  well it has wayyyyy too long since I last wrote, for which I can only say sorry, but my day job (or should I say, night one as that is when I work at my local hospitals) has taken over my life recently.  I can only promise that from now on, I will be definitely be posting regularly.

So I know that I wrote a few weeks ago about thinking about your background to make your subject stand out from the crowd, so I thought that today I would continue on from that and have a little chat about how to create a black background with your compact camera to do exactly that.

Even if you don’t have full manual controls on your compact, you can still achieve the same effect, but it will all depend on how much light you have around you.

First of all, we need to reduce the amount of light which is entering the camera’s sensor.  This is referred to as your ISO.  For a still subject, an ISO of 80 or 100 is the number of choice to allow enough in to keep your subject sharp and in focus.  If you are taking a picture of a moving one, then a slightly faster one, such as ISO 160/200 should be used.

Next, we need to think about our aperture – how much of your subject in the picture do you want to be sharp.  If you’d like all of it to be sharp and in focus, then choose a small aperture such as f8 or f11.  Fancy blurring the area around your subject a little, then pick a slightly wider one such as f5.6.  With the Olympus Tough series, the aperture is limited to either f2, f2.8 or f8 so the smallest one is the only option, otherwise a black background may not be achieved.

Finally, choose a really fast shutter speed.  If you are using your camera’s built-in flash, then choose the fastest, make sure that your flash is on “Forced Flash” and away you go.  If your picture is still bright, try reducing the power in your camera’s menu option.  This also has the bonus of helping to avoid your housing heat up on a dive and therefore reduces fogging!  If you are using a strobe to illuminate your subject, then make sure that your speed is no faster than 1/500th sec, or your flash won’t be able to fire fast enough when the shutter opens and  you will achieve a rather black photograph.

Don’t have the option to change your camera’s shutter speed?  Don’t worry, you may be able to achieve the same effect using your camera’s EV +/- option in your camera.  This will also help to reduce the amount of light coming into your camera, and therefore can create a darker background behind your subject.  Try it in increments of -1, -2 and see.  Some of the newer compacts now go up to -3 ….

Finally, when taking a picture of any subject, as mentioned before, think about positioning.  Sometimes with a subject, it simply is a case of waiting for it to move, like this turtle was when I found it.  I increased my shutter speed to create a darker background and my FIX housing got completely stuck on Shutter Speed Priority Mode on the fastest possible speed to sync with my strobe (1/500th sec) and luckily, this was my best shot – a completely black background to a wide-angle subject!  No Photoshop or Editing Needed – other than putting my watermark on it of course 🙂

Hope that this helps and please do let me know how you are getting on if you find these tips useful.  I really love hearing your stories on my night shifts 🙂




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