Last week I wrote about using lighting to help simplify a background. Today I want to take a step back and simplify things. Sure, learning to light a composition is very important but sometimes elevating a portrait can be as simple as deciding what not to include in the frame. In this lesson (with the help of my faithful assistant Spring) I’ll show you how little changes can make a big difference for your portraits.
So take a look at the above picture of Spring. What do you see? An eager dog of course but also some blankets, a kitchen with drying dishes, the mail, a plant, the back yard, etc. This leads to two questions. What is the important part of the picture? And what can I do to put the viewer’s focus on that subject? The answers are (assuming you are not just interested in what my home looks like), Spring, and get rid of all of the non-essential parts of the composition. Seems obvious, right? Well, it might be but how often have you just walked up to a beautiful scene, lifted your camera, and pressed the button? Sometimes turning to one side or the other and taking a few steps can have a huge impact on your composition.
In this portrait we have the exact same super cute model photographed in the same room with the same (más o menos) lighting, yet aside from an out of focus brick wall, there is nothing else to see. This immediately serves to bring the viewers’ eyes to the focal point of the portrait – Spring’s face and eyes.
Now I know what you’re thinking, that’s all fine and well if you have an empty wall that you could use as a background, but let’s face it, some scenes are going to be busy no matter what direction you turn. And that’s a good point – so then you have to work a bit to isolate your model. Last week I discussed how you could overpower the light on the background. This week’s solution is even more straight forward – just find something to cover it up.
For this final portrait, I put Spring on a piece of white paper which eliminates all distractions (and contextual location clues). If you’ve been following my work with adoptable animals for a while, you know that white seamless background paper is often my go-to solution for photographing shelter critters. That’s for good reason – some of the rooms I worked in were so full of stuff over the years that without a way to hide the background, a puppy portrait would turn into a Where’s Waldo picture.
So before you make that next portrait, think about the background and how it might work for or against your goals for the image. Oh, and if your model is of the canine persuasion, don’t forget your treats.