Occasionally, I walk into an assignment to do an environmental portrait for a magazine or an editorial headshot for a corporation and it is like a kid walking into a candy store with an unlimited amount of cash in their pocket. There are so many backgrounds to work with that include beautiful architecture, funky angles, cool lighting and of course stunning artwork. Just a little something to add dimension and interest to the shot while at the same time being relevant to the subject I am photographing.
But then again, there are a handful of cases when I go in to do a portrait and there is little to nothing that catches my eye and most certainly would not capture the attention of the reader. Thankfully, my mother always inspired me to make something from nothing. I always thought she was being obsessively frugal when she was unimpressed by the strong cases I could make in support of hooking me up with the newest whatever was cool at the time novelty but apparently she wanted me to have a little fun with the best toy that would always be available to me: my imagination.
I owe her. Big time. Especially when I consider all of the places I have walked into that initially seem like they have close to nothing to offer that would serve as an interesting background. But from a professional photographer’s perspective, there is no such thing as uninteresting. So, in honor of my mom, here are a few tips on how I make a little something from nothing.
1.) Change the way You Look At It
We are consistently looking at our environment at eye-level and the subject of primary importance is typically centered in our focal range. Instead, change it up and shoot from different angles while keeping the subject off-center.
2.) Frame Using Foreground and Background
Using what is both in front of and behind the subject in super-soft focus helps to frame and direct the viewers attention to what is of primary importance in the shot. Especially using something relevant like a textbook for a portrait of a professor or student, even just a hint of it, adds more visual interest.
3.) Experiment with Different Lighting Modifiers
Available light can leave much to be desired so I like having the option of completely creating and controlling this. This is where you get the contrast, the little bling that creates dimension. But lighting alone, even when done well, sometimes needs a kicker and this is where I use gels and cookies to create a little something where there was nothing.
4.) Play around in Post
As a portrait Photographer, I do not like to take post-production too far as the end-product should accurately reflect what was done in-camera and match the style of the client whether that be a trade-magazine or corporation. However, playing around with vignetting, pushing the details in HDR or tweaking the curves for contrast are all fair game and these small enhancements can make a big difference and add to the visual style, content and interest of a portrait.
So, no matter the space we are working with, there are always interesting visual elements that can be added through composition, lighting and post-production that bring a little bit more bling to each shot. It just takes a little imagination. Thanks, Mom.