Simplified Background Selection For Creating The Look You Want!

Portraits have a sense of style when everything within the frame coordinates with everything else within the frame achieving the overall look the photographer is try to create.  I personally start off with client’s clothing, since that is the only element in the photograph I have little or no control over.  Even when you tell a client, have a DVD of “do’s and don’ts” and inform them in every possible way, some clients will do what they want to do whether they should or not.

When selecting a background for a clients clothing, I look at the color, style and any designs (strips, plaids, etc.) or any noticeable accents (fur collar, plunging neckline, high slit, large zippers, chains or studs).  The first step is the easiest, the more ornate and stylish the clothing, the similar the background will be.  Monochrome backgrounds from white to black and all the tones of gray in between are always an excellent choice when you want the viewer to notice the client and not the background.  This is effective provided you don’t do all the time.  Potential clients see nothing but black, white and gray backgrounds they will assume you have two painted walls and camera room the size of a closet.

Now we introduce colors, both in the background and the clothing.  Colors have to coordinate from the subject’s clothing to the colors of the background or scene.  The more vivid the color, the closer it must match. Bright Lime Green for example can’t be used with a basic olive-green, but olive-green (a much more subdued color) can be used with browns, greens and many other coordinating colors. For this reason, many background painters and set designers either keep background monochrome (so the background will coordinate with basically any color of clothing) or they mix many brighter colors into one background in an effort to produce a more usable brighter background.

I have a huge number of backgrounds and sets in the studio and I allow each client to direct me as to the backgrounds and sets they would like to do in their session. That is a scary place to be if the client brings in the wrong clothing for the background/set ideas they like the most. For this reason, I tell each person to bring in one article of clothing, whether dress, blouse or suit that is completely black and something that is completely white.  With a solid black and a solid white they can select any background or set I own and I will be able to coordinate their clothing to background idea they have chosen.  With that being said, I know I am going to get the emails and comments from the “Visual Artists” that say, “thaaaats ridiculous, allowing a common client with no artistic training to select the backgrounds for their session…ridiculous I say!”  So before we go any further, I too consider myself an artistic photographer (artist to me is over the top) however I am an “Artist”  (their word not mine) that likes to make a great living in this profession, so I want my clients involved as much as possible so every image I take is tailored to their tastes.  I am good, but my psychic abilities are not as developed as those Visual Artist who will be sending me messages later in the day and personally I think my clients knows what they want more than you and I do!

When I select backgrounds I try to shop for new backgrounds that incorporate the most popular clothing colors at that time.  Some photographers just buy a background that looks good hanging there and find they can’t use it (or they try to use and shouldn’t) because the colors are not popular with their clients at that time.  If that happens don’t sell or throw the background away.  Whatever color or style it is, it will come back into fashion at some point in the future.

Style and coordinate the style or look of the clothing with that of the background comes down to personal taste of the photographer and how developed your design skills are.  A quick and easy way to almost always be right is to pair flashy, sexy or very stylish clothing with very simple backgrounds, after all if someone selects clothing like this, they want to notice it. The flip side of this is that boring or basic clothing can be brought to life with a more dramatic background.  A black fitted dress and black heels is very stylish, but done so much it tends to lose it’s impact.  To bring a little more life into the image you can coordinate that with a more dramatic background and/or scene.

Style and image coordinate is the next logical step beyond the basics of professional lighting and posing.  When we have the ability to control and coordinate everything within the frame we are truly as good as all of us claim to be.


~ by jeffsmithbooks on August 18, 2010.

One Response to “Simplified Background Selection For Creating The Look You Want!”

  1. Clients seldom buy based on artistic merit. They want what they want.. Grandma won’t buy a picture of granddaughter (no matter how beautiful) unless she is smiling. Mom won’t buy a great piece of art of the same girl unless is is a likeness that matches the one in her mind. How many times have I heard the picture doesn’t look like her..

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