What the heck? Yes, you heard me. Forget your subject, it is not the silver bullet that makes your photos amazing. A good subject paired with a great background is what really establishes the scene and mood of your photos. Heck, the background could even be considered the key part of your story, the plot if you will.
When I am out on a photography meetup, I notice most of my meetup friends looking for a great subject to photograph. I don’t blame them and there’s nothing wrong with that approach. But when you are outside with a group of 20 photographers, you can bet that many will shoot the same interesting subject. If one photographer points at something, 5 others will point at it at some point.
However, when I am out shooting, I look for the background first. Why? Because the background fills 100% of your frame and has a greater presence in your photo. Once you found the background that is truly stunning, you can easily find something in the foreground to add a subject.
There are many times when I am out on a mission to take a great photo, I find that there is nothing interesting to photograph. That is because I am looking for a subject, not a background. And what if there is nothing in the foreground to incorporate into your photo? Well, just improvise. Use your hands or a twig on the ground. I make it a habit of bringing with me 3-inch tall action figures which I can incorporate into the scene. They are cheap, inexpensive and can be found anywhere. Sometimes, they even add a comical relief to your photos (as shown above).
So the next time you are out shooting, look for a background and add a subject later. You can even make a subject into the background by playing with a shallow depth of field (DOF) as shown above.