Have a look at backgrounds


A couple of weeks ago we dealt with ‘professional’ portraits, and how you could get the same results with basic amateur (and sometimes homemade) equipment).

This week we are looking at how to handle backgrounds that may not be quite how you would like them to be seen.

The first tip sounds obvious, but you should look at the background before you pop the shutter button. This requires you to practice looking through the viewfinder with the critical eye. It means that you look beyond the breathtakingly beautiful model posed before your lens and stretch your focus through to the background.

Number 1 rule – make the background contrasting where possible. This simply means to have a light background if the person you are shooting has dark hair, and the reverse for those with blonde or white hair. Now to get this may require you to move the model, move yourself or move the location. And let me assure you that this is worthwhile. No matter how good the shot looks as you try so diligently to get a pinpoint focus on your subject – if there is no contrast between subject and background you will be disappointed in the final photograph. The person’s hair will disappear into the background. This is especially so when photographing the very dark haired people of Thailand. Just look at some of the news photographs in this issue of the Pattaya Mail and you will see just what I mean.

So what can you do if you are stuck with the wrong background? OK, there are several things you can do. The first is to turn on your electronic flash and even set the camera on automatic with it. Now walk close to the subject and pop the shutter and the flash. What happens here is that the flash will light up the foreground subject, but run out of steam by the time the flash burst reaches the background. By selectively lighting the foreground subject you have achieved that contrast necessary.

So you haven’t got a daytime flash facility on your camera – what now? Well, very often you can move the subject forward, away from the background and Mother Nature might supply you some light to lift the subject. Even direct overhead light can provide a rim of light around the hair, enough to contrast with the dark background.

So what else can you do? Well, if you have an SLR and can manually adjust the lens aperture you can use selective focus to help you. Use the longest lens you have (or the zoom at the highest number), move the subject as far away from the background as possible and move in as close as you can to the subject. In this way you have used the optical qualities of the lens to keep a sharp focus on the subject and throw the background into a hazy, out of focus blur.

Probably the last item to consider is color. When all else fails, or is impossible, position your subject against a contrasting colored background. This time, it is often better to place your subject very close to the background, rather than away from it as we have been doing so far. You want to illuminate the background just as much as the foreground, so you highlight the color contrasts. A yellow dress in front of a red door, for example.

So you think you are still in trouble? Well, there’s only one thing left, and it is the advice I give all the time – walk several meters closer! Make the person, your subject, your “hero” fill the frame in the viewfinder. This way you have now almost totally eliminated the background. No longer is it a problem. In some ways it is the perfect solution.