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
4. Try software effects


Telephoto lenses can help eliminate background distractions by cropping out most of the surroundings and allowing your subject to dominate the frame. Depth of field also decreases as focal length increases, softening the background.

Another benefit of telephoto lenses is that they "compress" the perspective, making objects closer to the lens appear smaller relative to objects farther from the lens. In portrait photography, this has the often pleasing effect of reducing the prominence of your subject's nose and reducing the "nose-to-ear" distance. A telephoto lens also allows you to work at a comfortable distance from your model. Telephoto zooms give you compositional flexibility, too.


Though it's always preferable to get the shot as close to perfect as possible with your camera and lens, you have options for cleaning up your backgrounds with software. Though this means more computer work—and things can look weird if you're not careful—software can help when you captured the perfect expression in a less than perfect environment. If you have skill with masking in Photoshop, you might apply a soft blur to the background manually; or there are excellent software plug-ins dedicated to creating more pleasing portrait backgrounds.

Try these tips—by themselves or working together—for subject-flattering, pro-quality portraits.

Flash Bounce

ExpoImaging's Rogue FlashBender is an indispensable tool for shaping your speedlight's output if you're using on-camera flash. You can mold and position the FlashBender to act as a reflector to bounce light toward your subject, as a flag to reduce the flash output or as a snoot to focus your flash with a spotlight effect. List Price: From $35.


To add fill light outdoors, collapsible reflectors like the Westcott 5-in-1 reflector are affordable and extremely useful. The 5-in-1's unique design includes gold, silver and white reflector panels, along with a white diffuser and a black block. Available in 20-, 40- and 50-inch diameters. Estimated Street Price: From $23 (20-inch).

Fast Aperture

Ideal for portraiture and more, Tamron's new SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD offers a constant, fast maximum aperture of ƒ/2.8 across the focal range for minimizing depth of field. The lens incorporates Tamron's Vibration Compensation (VC), helping you to shoot sharp when handheld. The lens is available for Canon, Nikon and Sony systems (the Sony model doesn't include VC, as a similar feature is built into Sony's camera bodies). Estimated Street Price: $1,299.


Plug-ins like Alien Skin Bokeh and onOne FocalPoint help you simulate the effects of a superfast lens after the fact. Both applications make it much easier and faster to create the effect than working with masks in Photoshop, and provide other unique enhancements to refine the final portrait. Free trials are downloadable for each via the respective websites.,

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