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To model a scene for background subtraction, Gaussian mixture modeling (GMM) is a popular choice for its capability of adaptation to background variations. However, GMM often suffers from a tradeoff between robustness to background changes and sensitivity to foreground abnormalities and is inefficient in managing the tradeoff for various surveillance scenarios. By reviewing the formulations of GMM, we identify that such a tradeoff can be easily controlled by adaptive adjustments of the GMM's learning rates for image pixels at different locations and of distinct properties. A new rate control scheme based on high-level feedback is then developed to provide better regularization of background adaptation for GMM and to help resolving the tradeoff. Additionally, to handle lighting variations that change too fast to be caught by GMM, a heuristic rooting in frame difference is proposed to assist the proposed rate control scheme for reducing false foreground alarms. Experiments show the proposed learning rate control scheme, together with the heuristic for adaptation of over-quick lighting change, gives better performance than conventional GMM approaches.