Tag Archives: Background

Backgrounds – simple is best

Creating Perfect Backgrounds

• Creating Perfect Backgrounds •
Bryan Peterson looks at one of the simplest lessons in outdoor photography – but one that gets effective results.
[Image taken from the video]

Perfect backgrounds…

It’s easy to spoil a great subject by picking the wrong background or using one with distractions. Taking the time to look around is worthwhile – then do a background check. Here are some pointers to help.

Great images include great backgrounds

A wonderful subject is not the only thing that makes a successful image. It is the whole image that the eye sees. A great subject but a distracting background you will lose the viewers eye to the background. Equally if the background is too cluttered it will draw attention away from the subject. Strong contrasts, clashing colours, peculiar events or something ugly in the background all take their toll.

Simplify, simplify, simplify…

Try to find interesting textures, colours and scenes for the background. Keep the contrasts to a minimum. Make sure no one is going to walk into the shot or create another type of distraction. In other words make it as easy as possible for your viewer to concentrate on the subject. It is all about showing off the best – and that is what you want the subject to be.

What to look for in a background

A certain amount of uniformity helps. If your background is too diverse the eye looks to see what the background is all about. Then the subject is lost to the eye. If it is too consistent the same is true. You risk losing the viewer because there is no background interest to off-set your subject. So there is a certain amount of artistic decision required. But with practice your eye will begin to see when something draws the eye once you become alerted to the impact of the background.

The background check

No, it’s not about identity papers. The background check is all about looking around your viewfinder to see what you think of the background. When you frame up the shot it is easy to think of the composition and placing the subject in an interesting position. But forgetting to check the quality of the background is fatal. Parked cars, flying balls, litter blowing in the wind – a whole range of distractions – can all suddenly appear. Worse, they can be there all along and you have just not seen them.

To do your background check is simple. Check around the edge of the frame. Make sure no odd items are sticking into the shot. Look for an interesting texture and colour range. Make the colours complementary and well defined, but not too contrasting. Check to see there are no very bright or dark zones. Brightness drags the eye off the subject. Darkness tones down the interest in the shot.

When you have checked everything, the background should be clean, tidy, well composed and not distracting. Then you can do one last quick check on your subject. If all is well press the Definition: Shutter Button. Presto – a great shot.

Creating the Perfect Background with Bryan Peterson

By way of example Bryan talks us through a situation in a park where he makes the best of the background – checking for problems and emphasising his subject.
Adorama Photography TV  External link - opens new tab/page

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The simplest way to add depth to your pictures

• Young Knights battle at the gates to the castle •

• Young Knights battle at the gates to the castle •
Click image to view large
• Young Knights battle at the gates to the castle • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page
The foreground interest fools the eye into seeing depth. In this case the path line and undulations in the mid-ground also help.

Understanding the power of the foreground…

Is the first step to creating a sense of depth in your pictures. Our eyes use markers like foreground, lines and background to gauge depth in the landscape. If we provide these in a two dimensional picture we fool the eye into seeing depth there too.

Foreground Interest – Video

Bryan Peterson explains in the video how to take a position that brings out the foreground interest. It’s easy. Make sure you shoot past something close when shooting into the scene so you can see a progression of depth… foreground, mid-ground and background. Simple.

adoramaTV  External link - opens new tab/page With Bryan Peterson

Scale

In fact you can use this landscape trick in the studio, or even a small room. Position yourself close to a foreground object and shoot past it into the room or scene. For example, use a chair or a table to occupy a part of the near end of the picture. That gives you a close marker allowing the eye to gauge a distance into the room. Here is an urban shot using the same principle…

Monument

• Monument •
The presence of the coffee cup on the table gives an immediate scale marker to the eye. The rest of the scene has depth because the eye can match the scale differences progressively as it looks into the scene.


The very well known scale of the size of a coffee cup in the picture is the clue to the depth of the rest of the shot. The eye/brain system does the rest. Simple principle – simple composition.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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Seven easy tips to improve your group photography

• Boys Group •

• Boys Group •
The humble group photograph can be much improved by a few simple steps.

Simple steps lead to great shots…

With groups you must go a little further than with straight portraits. Getting people coordinated, a range of different settings, beating the dreaded ‘blinks’, great sharpness… Check these out, go the extra mile.

Planning

When doing group shots a few ideas up front helps. Some simple ideas about cohesion, commonality and framing can make your shots more compelling. Clear ideas about how you want this particular group arranged will enable you to get them quickly into place. Groups, by their nature become impatient quickly. Preparation moves things along keeps people on the ball. Have your location scouted and know where you are going to place your group. Have a good, simple background ready. Make sure you have adequate light to work with. Location is everything.

Settings

Remember, groups require a wide view and you need some depth too. Set your aperture too large and you risk the back row being out of the zone of sharpness. Most groups are best photographed at f8 or even better f11. To get the sharpness work with your shutter speed up reasonably high. 1/125th minimum – better 200ths of a second. Go higher if you don’t need flash.

Bigger groups always have a certain amount of movement. Higher shutter speeds help to freeze the action. The problem is, high shutter speed and small aperture leave you needing flash or extra lighting. There is always a trade-off. To compensate you may need to raise your ISO.

Sharp shooting

Shooting at high speed will help freeze the action. It will not steady your hand. If shooting a big group, especially for formal shots, it’s best to use other sharpening techniques. Consider these sharpness…

  • Using a tripod
  • Use mirror lock-up function
  • Image stabilisation off (not needed on tripods – it creates vibration)
  • Auto-focus off on a tripod after the group is focused (it creates vibration)
  • Operate with a remote shutter button or use the on-camera timer

A tripod saves time. You can arrange the group and smooth the shot through. If you have more than one group, your camera is always set up when it is on a tripod. It helps smooth the flow.

Light and shade

Overall light in the scene is important, so is the shade. When taking pictures of groups you are taking a wide angle view. The group is often spread out. It’s easy to miss that one or two of the group are in the shade. Or, with a camera mounted flash, the shadows from the flash fall harshly onto the people behind. Trees, buildings, other people, towers, street lights – any number of objects can cast unexpected shadows which are difficult to notice. Flash casts shadows you don’t see until you open the picture on a computer later. Look carefully at your group. Arrange them to be in clear, consistent light. Make sure any lights or flash you are using treats all the members of the group evenly and fairly.

Clothing

So often with groups you have no control over clothing. If the event is formal the clothes often have a stiff and upright feel. People don’t relax so well in this situation so you will have to set the scene and pose them accordingly. It is not easy, especially with family conventions or a preset plan. Where possible let them arrange themselves with your help. People will be most comfortable next to the people they like and know.

When a group is coming together informally the clothes may be wildly variable in character. What matters when working with a candid group is the fun arrangement of the group. Try to get the group to look dynamic and together. This will offset a strong clothing variation.

The prize giving

• The prize giving •
If the group feels comfortable and you work with them they’ll help make a great picture.

Organisation

Groups, especially close up, look odd if the faces are at different distances from the camera. They are close enough to us to look fine. However, the lens plays tricks on our eyes. If they are out of line – at different distances, but close together – they will appear to have different head sizes. Try to make people in each line of a group stand evenly down the line.

Sometimes the classic, short in front taller to the back works fine. Other times it is better to actually mix up short and tall – especially with different generations. It is much more natural for grandchildren to be arranged with grandparents than stuck on the end of the line because they are small. Putting children between adults also provides an opportunity to have a shorter person behind so as to break up a line up – to make it less formally arranged.

Close family groups, and friends, often look good leaning together, or heads together. It is very intimate to touch heads.

The dreaded ‘blinkies’ strike every group shot if you are not careful. The bigger the group the more likely that someone will blink. Overcome it with a little group control. Ready to shoot? Tell them you are going to help stop them blinking in the shot. Tell every one to shut their eyes. Count to two, tell everyone to open. Count to two. Press the shutter. Everyone will have open eyes. Explain it first so they know what is coming. It will make sure they all have eyes open long enough for you to get the shot.

So, with all these different ways of organising the group make sure that what you have is comfortable, natural – never forced.

Posing

Organising the group is about positioning and location. Posing is about personal stance and comfort. You, as the photographer, need to direct the group. But on the other hand you have to work with the people you have before you. Try to make it fun. Get them to relate to one another. If you have time, especially with candids or informal group, get them to experiment. Handshakes, greetings, hugs, arms around each other, standing in groups – the idea is to make ‘that’ group look good. Another group might not look good with the same poses. You should work with them, discuss ideas with them, respect their thoughts. They probably know each other better than you know them and will make the best suggestions. It is your job as a director to pick up on the most effective shots from their ideas. Consider what you know about them, consider their ideas for their poses – then work together to make the shot just right.

Getting the right feeling…

Working with groups is more than just lining them up. You have to consider the time, place, light, shade, the settings and the technique. But the best shots still come from the group itself. If the members of the group are comfortable, having fun and feel natural about their poses they will make sure you get a good shot. Work with them, help them make your picture work.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

How to use negative space effectively

• Boats •

• Boats •
Picture by Mike Browne (from the video)

Composition that is not there!

The space that surrounds the subject and fills the gaps between important objects in your picture can be described as negative space. In some ways it defines the objects you see. In another way it is not really there. Instead the background is what you see.

The concept of negative space is important. The shape of your subject is created, at least in part, by the space around it. The space helps to define its character too. How much space surrounds your subject, and the type of space, all pass messages to the viewer about your shot.

Negative Space in Photography

Negative space is a strong artistic element yet it is not always obvious how to use it in your photography. Seeing negative space, and using it, takes a little practice and some ideas on how to place the elements in the shot. In the video Mike Brown shows us, despite the annoying balloon, how to use negative space and how to place your subject. He shows us how to use the balloon too – eventually.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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How to tackle the problem of reflections and highlights with glass

• Photographing anything translucent requires treatment that defines the shape •

• Photographing anything translucent requires treatment that defines the shape •
Photograph by Phillip McCordall

Make the best of your resources.

Making the best of your resources is important. Expensive equipment is out of reach for many photographers. Using simple equipment and home resources helps. Glass presents particular problems. This tutorial will help you to tackle the problem with glass and learn more about using simple resources.

The problem with glass

By its nature, the translucence and reflectance of glass creates special problems for photographers. Translucence means that the definition of glass is lost against the background. Reflectance means that general highlights and specular highlights in particular can cause problems. Success in photographing glass is about learning to control those things. It is all a matter of using reflectance to define the glass and placing the light in the correct way for it to illuminate.

Using a simple house light and white and black cards, this tutorial helps you to control highlights to emphasise the glass and not create nasty highlights. You learn about good quality composition with a glass and a few tricks of the trade. Win:win I think.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Can you write? Of course you can!
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The secrets of good backgrounds

• Backdrops •

• Backdrops •
Wallpaper can be used extensively as a backdrop. There is plenty of variation and the material is relatively cheap.

Get more out of less.

One of the central ideas behind photography is to reduce the “clutter” especially in the background. We want to simplify our shots to help focus the viewers attention on the subject we have chosen. Often, by way of controlling the scene we use backdrops. For the modern photographer a backdrop provides a simple uncluttered background that can be used to off-set the colours of the subject, or to complement them or remain neutral.

Backdrop secrets

Modern backdrops have a wide range of finishes. However, strong patterns and fussy details draw the eye off the subject. So most backdrop patterns are designed to reduce the impact on the eye. Rather than regular strong lines or shapes these back drops will tend to have random and subdued variations in the theme. Other backdrop types are solid colours. The best backdrops are minimalist.

Black backdrops are often used for darkening and absorbing the light. White backgrounds are frequently used for high-key photography. Reds, purples and blues are often used for different types of shots, but can also form effective variations for monochrome work (single tone shots or a single colour and white).

Bright green backdrops are called chroma-key (chromakey). They are often used to provide a set colour ready for post processing technique called compositing. This is where new colours or entire images are to swapped into the image. The subject is retained but the green colour is replaced with an entirely new image. This technique is the digital replacement of the old ‘back-projection’ or painted backgrounds techniques used to make it look like there was something solid in the background in the days of film. Actually there was a blank screen behind the subject. This technique is also known as “green screen”.

Backdrops can be used anywhere but are used extensively in two particular branches of photography. Portraiture and fashion photography use backdrops to simplify the scene as much as possible. This allows the person or model to be the strongest element in the scene. The eye is therefore drawn to the person which is where the photographer wants people to look. A fashion or portrait shot where the eye is not on the person is a disaster!

Still life

The other area where backdrops are used extensively is in various types of still life. Again the intention is to create a simple scene so the subject is the centre of interest. However, in still life the relatively close up nature of the work can allow the use of stronger elements in the backdrop.

Heart in hand

Heart in hand • By Damon Guy
In smaller scenes or still life backdrops can be stronger. The diagonal wallpaper pattern here helps the flow of the eye.


In the picture above the hands are the centre of attention. The backdrop is used in this case to provide a dynamic feel (from the strong diagonal) and to direct the eye along the line of the phrase in the heart. Eyes naturally tend to follow lines like that.

Wallpaper

While solid colours and simple patterns are well catered for in the market, specific patterns on backdrops are limited. However, in the picture at the top of this page you can see that I have arranged a variety of different wallpaper samples. Wallpaper is easy to find – it is in every DIY store and great patterns, plain or textured can be found at relatively cheap prices. If you are working at small, still life, sizes one piece of wall paper might be sufficient. However, I have sometimes worked with wallpaper on a full sized portrait backdrop. In this case I use strong tape to stick the wallpaper sheets side by side to make the backdrop wide enough. Then, I staple the wall paper to two light wooden battens, top and bottom. This helps hold the papers together with less damage. It also helps pull the paper out so it hangs flat. Wallpaper has a tendency to curl. Then the top batten is clamped to the backdrop cross bar. Hey presto! You have a cheap but patterned backdrop.

Other patterns, shapes and marks can be used to do other things in a picture. In fact if it is used properly the use of backdrops can be complementary, can be contrasting, can form effective reflections, light dampening, and many more things. Understanding backdrops is a great way to ensure that you can control what is going on behind the main subject.

Decor

Backdrops have rich history in the theatre. Today, in modern still photography they are relatively simple and uncluttered. However, if you have a specific scene in mind you can use wall paper to provide fun and varied backdrops to complement or change your scene. While proper cloth or paper backdrops can be quite expensive; wallpaper is a relatively cheap way to use fun patterns and interesting backdrops.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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A simple introduction to backlight

• Introduction to backlight •

• Introduction to backlight •
Various images showing backlight scenarios in the studio and outside.
Images from various artists – displayed on Google Images.

Backlight is a versatile light with great potential.

The term backlight refers to the use of a light which is projected from the back of the scene/studio onto the subject from behind. The camera is placed facing the subject. It captures the effect of the light as a highlighted rim or halo around the back edges of the subject.

The use of a backlight creates very distinct effects. The most important is the rim light around the edges of the subject. This highlighting effectively isolates the subject from the background. So it is a useful technique when the subject and background share similar colours or tones. The rim effect around the edges of the subject is especially useful for bringing out highlights and style in hair. Sometimes it is also used to imply purity or goodness after the manner of a religious halo.

Backlight can be produced either with artificial light, natural light or a combination. The sun is normally the most important light for back lighting and so in cases where sunlight is strong artificial light is often used to bring the foreground or the subjects front side out of shadow. This is fill light and provides sufficient light for a good shot of the subject without blowing out the effects of the back light.

In photographic scenes the backlight is often used to create an emphasis on the three dimensionality of the subject. Lights coming directly from the position of the camera tend to make a subject look flat because all the shadows are removed. Backlight has the opposite effect. The light halo effect at the back of the subject emphasises the depth of the subject. It can also be used to emphasis depth in the picture. By strongly highlighting the back of the subject the distance to the scenery behind the subject is revealed giving the image some depth.

Setting up an effective backlight requires some care. If the source of the light shines directly into the camera lens it will blow out and create a strong distraction for the picture viewer. Also a strong backlight can make the front side of the subject look very dark or even silhouetted. To prevent this it is normal practice to use a front light as well so the subject is bright enough to capture. Setting up a good backlight often requires getting the foreground light correct first, then putting in the backlight at around 2 to 3 stops brighter to create the emphasis.

The angle at which a backlight hits the subject can be critical. If the backlight is directly toward the camera the subject can be strongly blown out by and direct light passing around the subject. Normally backlight is applied at an angle. That way the lighting will provide a little texture on the subject and not be directed into the camera lens. It can also be used to more effectively show fashion elements like hair styles by picking out highlights, curls etc.

“Backlight” should not be confused with background lighting. The latter is where a light is used to light the background, the scenery or backdrop. Background lighting typically faces away from the camera. Backlights face toward the camera.

Backlights are used in such a large variety of ways that some practice and experimentation is needed to be able to work out the best way to use them. However, because of the intensity of the light from the back the foreground lighting is often important too. It is not unusual for multiple artificial lights to be needed in order to get the best out of backlights and to keep the balance of lighting good all around the subject.

Examples of “Studio backlighting” on Google  External link - opens new tab/page
Examples of general “backlight photography” on Google  External link - opens new tab/page

Backlight techniques are very important in photography as they have so many effective outcomes. It is certainly worth practising with your lights or even natural light to try out some of the effects.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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