Making A Background Recede Using Light Painting Techniques

Jan 15, 2024

In many ways, photography is about getting the viewer to see what we want them to see. This is true of any kind of photography, not just light painting. For instance, in landscape photography, we must distill the world down, simplifying it in order to make our point visually.

Still life work is no different. We hope to get the viewer to connect with our subject matter. In my opinion, a background that does not recede can interfere with this. In my own work, I try to keep the background where it should be… In the background.

There are three basic ways to make the background recede. I tend to use all three of them together, or sometimes I may just use two of these methods, but I think it's worth considering their use.

1. Brightness. 
This is the most obvious and important one. Subconsciously, we tend to see lighter things as coming toward us (or toward the light, if you will) and dark things as receding. If we make a background darker, it is going to feel like it is further back than if it were lighter. By the way, I use this concept every time I make an image!

2. Softness. 
As humans, we know that blurry things tend to be on a different plane, or at a different distance from, things that are in sharp focus. Of course, this relates very much to the depth-of-field in a photographic image. The tilt-shift craze of a few years ago really took off because of this very principle. We couldn't perceive the tilt-shift scene in any other way except to think it was a small miniature set with limited depth-of-field… something we were used to seeing as humans in a photograph of a very tiny subject. Then focus stacking came along! We cannot use focus stacking in light painting, but I do use a small aperture to get enough depth-of-field for my subject, and I generally don't want my background to be tack sharp.

3. Color.

This one is not so obvious; we tend to perceive warm colors as being closer to us, and cool colors as being further away. This is just another aspect of our vision that we can use to make a background recede, creating more depth in the image. This is one reason I often use cool colors in my backgrounds.

One can juggle these three concepts around… You can make a background recede by making it dark and soft, but it may not have to be cool. Or, you could make it soft and cool, and maybe it doesn't have to be as dark. It is the balancing of these three concepts that requires a little time to implement, but I think it is worth the time to make sure that our background is not fighting with the foreground!

In the first image below, the background is obviously warm, and seems to have more "presence" than it does in the second image, in which I have made the background cool.

In the third image, I have also blurred the background, and I believe that the background recedes even more. It interferes less with the foreground.


  "Vessel and Pods" by Harold Ross

Foundation Course Students:

We are very excited to announce that, as a student of my Light Painting Foundation Course, you now have the (free) opportunity to participate in our new Community section of the website!
The Community is an area where you can interact with other students of the Foundation Light Painting Course.
The community has several Circles (rooms), each dedicated to a specific topic, where you can share images, ideas and ask questions of others in the Foundation Course Community.
If applicable, please try to post within a "Circle" so that others may more easily find the subjects they are interested in. To see all posts, no matter what "Circle" they were posted into, click on the "All Posts" feed.
In your Foundation Course Library, you will now see a new section called "Harold's Light Painting Community" which will give you quick access to the Community.

Also, my small but dedicated team has added a few new additions to the course:

• There is a new video on how to create your own Template in Capture One. In some cases, our installer may not function correctly due to system differences, so this short video details very quick and easy way to create it yourself. You will find this in the "Tethering Software Setup" module of the Course.

• We've added a new PDF for Hasselblad Phocus users with basic navigational items to stay within the correct workflow. Also found in the "Tethering Software Setup" module of the Course.

• There is a new video dedicated to the use of unsupported cameras in Capture One. Some cameras are not supported for tethering, but this video presents a simple workaround that works very well! Also found in the "Tethering Software Setup" module of the Course.

• We will soon be announcing a new major upgrade to my Light Painting Photoshop Plug-in Panel, which allows us to create our "Print Master" file and make final adjustments to it very quickly and very easily! Stay tuned!

Happy Light Painting, and always remember... Skim The Light!


Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our light painting mailing list to receive the latest news and updates