Thursday, August 2, 2012

Portrait Background Basics

One of the most important things you can do to make better portraits is to find, or create, a background free of distraction.
By Wes Pitts Published in Shooting
Find a simple background
Find a simple background
One of the most important things you can do to make better portraits is to find, or create, a background free of distraction. This doesn't mean your backgrounds have to be plain, especially if you're shooting an environmental portrait where context is key. But, generally, you want to find a setting that focuses attention on your subject with minimal visual clutter. Here are some essential tips to ensure that your model—and not the background—is the center of attention.

3. Use a telephoto lens


There's a reason why portrait studios have roll upon roll of neutral backdrops—they don't distract from the subject and they're relatively easy to light. Most of us don't have the room for a dedicated photo studio, so we have to be more creative.

For a studio look at home, a blank wall, closed window curtains or even a bed sheet taped to the ceiling all can provide a clean backdrop for your image. You can use a single light placed behind your subject to illuminate the background and create a sense of space and depth. If you're working with on-camera flash, try bouncing it off of the ceiling for softer, more diffused light.

When shooting outdoors, look for a large wall or a garage door (alleys at midday are a good place to start), or an open vista where you can use the sky as your background.

2. Reduce your depth of field


Using a large aperture for shallow depth of field not only will help create a pleasing, soft background, but it can let you be creative with out-of-focus foreground elements, too.

Be careful, though! With a shallow depth of field, it's especially critical to be sure that your subject's facial features are in focus, so try manual focusing. Review images on your camera's LCD preview to zoom in on facial details and check that they're sharp.

Or consider exposure bracketing with multiple apertures; it's safer than finding that your favorite shots are slightly out of focus when you view them on a larger screen. Though a pleasing background is important, focus is fundamental.

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