(photo credit: Paul Distenfeld)
Tom Langford is an event and commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer.
models on location for magazines is always an enjoyable experience.
There are all sorts of problems and considerations that have to be dealt
with on the spot, but it’s very satisfying to live on the edge and
create excellent results time after time.
My first task on
reaching an unfamiliar location is to scout around to find the best
positions, distances and angles to shoot from. I need to find the most
appropriate backgrounds for the style of shots required by the art
director. Once these are approved I quickly set up the lighting and take
a few test shots of my assistant standing in for the models. Only then
do I relax and wait around for the next couple of hours while the models
are made up and styled.
I’m mentioning this just to show that
being aware of the background is extremely important. If you take care
of the background you could easily end up with a good shot: If you
neglect the background you will end up with a snap. Awareness of the
background separates photographers from snappers; it’s as simple as
that. Two types of background
have a look at two shots sent in by readers that show very different
approaches to creating an excellent background. Here’s a picture from
Paul Distenfeld of Miami. It stands out from run-of-the-mill portraits
not only because of the unusual subject and amusing expression, but also
because the background is beautifully out of focus.
blurred backgrounds are the stock-in-trade of the professional portrait
photographer. You can easily create this effect if you have a SLR
camera and use the long end of a zoom lens, typically 200 – 300mm. First
choose an uncluttered background, then stand well back from your
subject and zoom in. Use the Av mode (Aperture Priority) that allows you
to select the widest aperture – this will create the most blur. It
helps if the subject isn’t too close to the background.
use “FX” SLR cameras with full frame sensors and big, heavy F2.8 zooms
that together produce the best out-of-focus effects. Amateur “DX” SLRs
have half-frame sensors, usually used with lighter zoom lenses that give
reasonably blurred backgrounds. Compact cameras have tiny sensors that
keep almost everything in focus. You can’t easily use them to take
portraits with a pleasantly blurred backgrounds.
One option with
a compact camera is to turn a necessity into a virtue by standing
closer to the subject - use the wider end of the zoom and include more
of the background in the shot. This is exactly what David Young has done
with this excellent and amusing portrait.
was probably taken with the wide-angle end of a compact camera’s zoom
lens. The background is in focus but adds atmosphere and strength to the
shot. The composition is excellent: Notice how the heads are precisely
framed by the two vertical strips of wall. The angle it is taken from
has created a diagonal perspective that adds a sense of movement. The
two shoppers in the background suggest activity but don’t detract
because their faces aren’t shown.
Both Paul and David’s portrait
shots capture wonderful expressions but could have been ruined had the
backgrounds been inappropriate. If Paul’s shot included more of the
background, showing a tourist bus and a road sign, it would not have
been so effective. If David had zoomed in closer and accidentally
included the half obscured face of another shopper it would just be
Become as aware of the background as you are of the
subject and your photography improve will enormously. The moral is:
Take care of the backgrounds and the pictures will take care of
themselves. Constructive Feedback
If you are aspiring to develop your photography skills, send me a
picture and I may use in one in my articles with some constructive
feedback. Send one picture only, at a small size to suitable for emails
.If you don’t know how to send a photo by email at a small size please look at my Brief Guide to Picasa: www.langford.co.il/courses/PicasaGuide.html Tom
Langford is an Event and Commercial photographer, website designer, and
professional retoucher. He teaches photography courses for beginners
and improvers. Details of his courses and field trips at: http://www.langford.co.il/courses