Photography Shooting

Using the Background Effectively in Your Portraits

tall dry grass copyright Aloha Lavina.

Background is always part of image design. Incorporating a background effectively into a portrait is something that can enhance your image and make it unique.

Pay attention to geometry.

Because the brain likes to organize things into patterns, geometry is something that can enhance your portrait and make it pleasing to the viewer. Lines straight or curved, that lead to the subject can help to isolate the focal point of an image from all the other information that is in the design. Here the curve of the pool brings a variation into the square tile design that serves as the background to the image.

wedding portrait copyright Aloha Lavina
A curve can accentuate a portrait with a textured background.

Grunge can give an image a textured effect.

Grungy backgrounds look cool, but there’s actually an artistic purpose to using them. A grungy background helps to contrast, say, a subject with smooth skin. Placing the subject against a background with grunge and texture makes a portrait pop with contrast.

Nick Sotavongse Jewelry Design image copyright Aloha Lavina.
Grunge can give the added contrast to a model's smooth skin.

The background colors can give a portrait atmosphere and mood.

Especially at a shallow depth of field, say f/5.6, a portrait with a lot of texture in the background can help to separate the subject from what’s behind her. In this portrait, the green foliage is blurred by the shallow depth of field, rendering the outline of the model sharper in contrast. Although the background has texture, it doesn’t take away from the subject because it has a limited color palette.

portrait copyright Aloha Lavina.
A textured background can be less distracting at a shallow DOF.

The background can add dynamism to a portrait.

Even a background with lines that intersect the model’s figure can work to make a portrait more interesting. In this portrait, the grill pattern behind the model might seem to clash with the model especially in the complicated patterns of her clothing. But the lighting serves to separate the model from the background just enough to make her stand out. In addition, the background helps to ‘point’ to the Gaga-esque shoulder pads she’s wearing, giving the image the purpose for its design.

Vachini Kraikrish for Muse Hotel copyright Aloha Lavina.
Lines in the background can add a dynamic tension to a portrait.

A uniform texture in the background can help to make a portrait interesting and give it depth.

Even with the interesting colors of the sky, this portrait would have been less interesting without the tall dry grass behind the model. The grass serves two purposes, to create textures behind the model, and to give the image layers that give it visual mass. Without the grass, the portrait would have only had two visible planes, making the negative space of the sky less interesting.

tall dry grass copyright Aloha Lavina.
The background can add visual mass and depth to a portrait.

If you’re looking or a place to shoot this week, why not try to find similar backgrounds and try your hand at textured design in your portraits?

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