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Dash of Inspiration – Selecting Digital Backgrounds

April 2, 2012

A Dash of Inspiration, A Cup of Creativity by Doreen

Selecting Digital Backgrounds

Last week we talked about Digital Background Removal and that sparked a request for Part 2 this week to chat about what characteristics to look for when choosing a replacement background for your image.  So I’ll pass on my thoughts in the hopes they may spark some great inspiration for your own imagery.

The first step is to identify the purpose of your final image.

  • Is it a portrait of a pet or loved one for a customer?  If so, you may want a more ‘studio’ feel to your final image such as you would find in a portrait studio using muslin drops and background lighting.
  • Are you creating an image with a theme; such as Easter specifically for a greeting card?  If so, then you’ll want to be sure to stick with your theme to ensure your colors, textures and subject matter create a harmonious blend.
  • Is your final image intended to be a digital composition created of many pieces?  Digital composition typically are created from a vision you already have, so you will know what you are looking for when you see it and in these types of images, the background is often the glue which holds the other elements together.
  • Do you just wish that when you took the photograph the surrounding environment had less distraction?  In which case your results would want to look as if you took the image that way; replacing the background with an image from the same or similar photo shoot for a very natural look.
  •  Or is your goal to set your subject apart from a distracting background and have an impact on the viewer as a stand alone subject with no competition from the background elements?  Great choices for this type of result is soft grunge, bokeh, Gaussian blurs, or  often even a solid white or black will create great that WOW factor for you, with or without a light texture effect.

The second step is to match the qualities that your subject has such as; emotion, lighting, and color to a background that blends rather than competes with your subject.

  • Look at the direction of your light source on your subject and choose a background where the light source is the same.  Shadows on a subject that are physically impossible from the light source on the background will cause your imagery to not work.
  • If your subject has feet, then usually you will need to find a background that will allow the animal or person to have something to stand on that takes away the appearance of them floating.
  • Match the emotion of your subject to a background.  If you’ve captured a child in mid-jump who is laughing and full of energy, then you want to keep that emotion throughout the image.  Same applies to a somber emotion, putting a sleeping dog on a brightly colored background as a sympathy card, may contradict the emotion of the subject and message.
  • Watch for colors and textures which ‘fight’ each other and/or the subject.  Remember, we photograph something because the natural composition drew us in, if you remove the background and replace it with one that contradicts the subject such as; placing a giraffe on a snow-covered mountain or a child in a swimsuit on an ice-rink, you are creating imagery that will most likely not be accepted by your audience; these examples are drastic, but they are meant to get my point across.
  • Watch out for adding distracting elements back in to your image such as; trees or poles sticking out of the back of heads, elements which get cutoff unnaturally by your subject, hot spots, etc . . .
  • If you are creating a greeting card, then you must keep in mind when choosing a background to pick one which offers a good compositional space for adding your text to the front without creating an unbalance of elements and/or illegible text.

So, where do you get backgrounds?

Photographer’s have an advantage in being able to photograph their own backgrounds to have on hand.  Here are some tips for the photographers:

  • When you are out on a shoot, take the time to find one or two spots that just offer the best possible background scene for the subjects you are shooting at that time and set up the camera properly to capture the right DOF for these background shots.  Doing this on-site offers you replacement backgrounds that have the same environmental elements, textures, colors and lighting conditions of your subjects – so if you need to swap a background out to save a great subject, you have great matches on hand.
  • While out photographing, always keep your eyes open for opportunities to capture backgrounds for your collection.  Walls of all kinds (except graffiti which is someone’s art) can often make great textures and/or backgrounds, meadows, landscapes and such can come in handy.
  • For a studio environment such as; muslin backgrounds there are some affordable choices already available for purchase with a CU License included for those who may have a steady need for the more ‘formal’ portrait backdrops. Visit EZ and XSight below for some lovely and affordable choices.
  • For theme related backgrounds there are lots of choices.  You can browse for public domain images that may offer you what you need, but I caution you on Public Domain imagery; much of the photography that is truly PD is there because of technical faults such as focus or lighting issues, and has low resolution so choose wisely.  You are better off purchasing backgrounds or following the rules of use in Derivative Works from a source such as the

Etsy has great digital backgrounds and you are supporting a fellow artist

Look for theme/holiday Digital Background Sources like those available at Photo Backs or Artco Design.

  • For something like a grunge or bokeh effect to set your subject off, I’m all for making your own by experimenting with watercolor, grunge and bokeh brushes or blend a texture into a plain color for a unique background. Look through my posts for the past year to see some great links to brushes of this type.

I hope I’ve given you some good ideas and gotten your creative juices flowing.

EZ Backgrounds has an affordable Muslin selection

High Resolution Digital Backgrounds With Adjustable Lighting Effects by XSight

Etsy Digital Backgrounds

Holiday Themed Packages at

Themed Backgrounds at Artco Design

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 2, 2012 9:18 am

    Doreen, what a fun treat to have all this great background art with my coffee at 4:30 am. I thank you for providing a visual and inspirational start to the week! I have a question. While looking at some offerings on etsy I came across a few packages of backgrounds from one seller that had used a familiar brush and I could not find she had given credit to the brush artist. I know that this artist does ask for credit. Now my question is this, If someone were to purchase her background and use it for a card,(not knowing the origin of the brush) , would they be in hot water if discovered that brush is in their card and had not given credit? I really hope this made sense!

    • April 2, 2012 3:14 pm

      Hi Betsy – thanks for stopping by and I’m glad you’ve enjoyed today’s topic.

      I’m no expert, but here’s my thoughts regarding your question. First, it is possible that this Etsy artist purchased a CU4CU license from the designer of the brush in which case credit would not be required.

      If however the brush is used improperly then I’m guessing that the majority of the ‘at fault’ would be directed at the Etsy artist for using the brush without following the TOU, since her ‘customers’ are purchasing a product from her . . .however anyone such as yourself who recognizes the brush and purchases the background anyway to use for CU, would certainly have to deal with a guilty conscience . . . LOL!

      If I were you, I would send a quick private email to the owner of the brush you recognize and a URL to the Etsy page and briefly explain that you were interested in the background set, but recognized the brush and noticed no credit was given so before taking any further steps you wanted to be sure the Etsy artist had permission to sell this item.

      Hope that helped!

      • April 2, 2012 6:21 pm

        Thanks Doreen, that is a very big help. Great info.

  2. abigail157 permalink
    April 2, 2012 3:12 pm

    Thanks for all of your information! You do a great job and work hard to help us improve our cards. Thank you from all of us.

  3. SunAtNight permalink
    April 2, 2012 5:48 pm

    Oooooh I love the info! Thank you! This is a topic that I have never discussed with other photographers and I truly appreciate the sharing. I do my own digital backgrounds and had no idea what other professionals thought about the use or even thought about textures in general.

    • April 2, 2012 6:52 pm

      You are welcome SunAtNight and since you are the one who requested my thoughts on the subject, I’m delighted that you found it worth the read!


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