One of the most asked questions photographers like Bruce Weber get is how to achieve an interesting background when shooting with available light. The answer lies in having a great location, being prepared with plenty of props, knowing your camera angles well enough so that the changing of lenses is quick and simple, and finally, knowing how to interact with your subject so that you can keep their attention focused on your camera.
Having good contact with your model is essential.
Props are essential for more than just filling up pictures that might otherwise be bare. To set the mood or give a “touch” of authenticity, they will always add something to the picture. Many times, if it’s funny, offbeat, or provocative enough, it may become the center of attention in the picture rather than the model.
A prop like a fishing net can be used in numerous ways.
The great location is, of course, essential for getting any picture in the first place and is part of what makes it accessible to others outside of your studio or living room. The more unusual and striking it is, the better chance you’ll have with interesting backgrounds.
One thing that has changed over the years in fashion photography is how important it is for models to interact with their surroundings rather than pose. Nowadays, that approach doesn’t interest younger generations of photographers and models really…nor does it bother those who are now interested in shooting photos. The more “real” it seems, the better.
What about the time of day? Well, that’s another key factor to take into account when thinking about locations that have interesting backgrounds or where you want to shoot your subject against a particular kind of background. If it’s an unusual location, you’ll need to do your scouting before the actual shoot. There’s nothing more frustrating than showing up with your model and finding that the location isn’t what you expected it to be or that it lacks any interest at all.
Another element to keeping the background interesting is knowing how to take advantage of available light. The more you know about available light, the less likely it will be for you to find yourself in a situation where you can’t take advantage of any of it. Other times, one has to make do with what’s available and try using different kinds of props and changing your camera angles and positions to get what you want out of the shot.
A big part of good background is knowing how to position your subject to work with the lighting and tell a story.
The first skill you need to master is how to use your camera angle creatively for more than just getting rid of backgrounds or filling up bare walls. You will also learn how changing your angle can create new relationships between you, the background, and the person in front of your lens.
Whether you’re taking a portrait or photographing the background first and your subject second, it’s important to know how to position them within your camera frame so that there is some dynamic going on between what’s in front and what’s behind them.