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How to Choose Your Portrait Photo Background on Location

When shooting portraits on location, choosing the right background is critical, and just like anything in photography, there is no one size that fits all.

Let’s break them down into different scenarios. I’ll use examples for each one. We go from easy-to-follow ones to trick ones that sometimes rely on some luck.

Choose brighter backgrounds for dark hair or dark outfit.

Choose darker backgrounds for brighter hair and light-colored outfits.

Choose clean and neutral backgrounds for someone who’s wearing outfits with vivid colors or with busy patterns.

Here are some tricky ones. When your subject has dark hair and wearing brighter-colored outfits or bright hair with darker outfits, choosing backgrounds that compliment both.

Notice her dark hair is against the brighter sky. I also added a strobe to light up the wood frame (the part just above her) just so she’s standing out more. Her outfit is against the parts of the background that are in the shadow. Part of the outfit on camera left is against a brighter background but it is illuminated by the sun, so there is still enough contrast.

For this one, notice that her bright hair is against the dark window and her black outfit is against the bright couch that is under direct sunlight.

Same idea for this one.

And this one.

You can’t apply this on every single portrait photograph, but try to do it. Always check the background before you click. Look at the whole image instead of only focusing on your subject. Keep practicing and make this second nature to you.

Sometimes we got stuck in this situation that there are not many choices and the only option is our subject blending in with the background. Other than using lens blur, we can also use lighting to separate them. The lighting could be either available light or strobe.

Examples of using the sun as a rim light to separate the subject from the background.

Examples of using a strobe to separate the subject from the background.

Example of using both sun and strobe to separate the subject from the background.

Sun camera right on hair and arm, strobe camera left on model’s face

We are not painters who can put whatever background they can imagine around their subjects. We are always trying our best to create what we feel through our photography but the cameras will just record what they see, so remember to choose your background wisely. That’s it.

Take your camera out and start playing with your background. Make this part of the training of your photographer eyes. You might find portrait photography is even more fun than you thought, especially when you’re shooting on location.

About the author: Kyle Cong is a portrait photographer based in Coquitlam, British Columbia, and serving the Greater Vancouver area. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Cong’s work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was also published here.

Learn How to Shoot a Portrait Photo With This Great Tutorial

Learn How to Shoot a Portrait Photo With This Great Tutorial

Portrait photography is a challenging genre that takes the confluence of technical skills, creative ideas, and the ability to work with people to produce a successful image. If you are new to portrait photography and want to increase the quality of your work, be sure to check out this fantastic video tutorial that will show you how to improve your portraits no matter what light you are working with.

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How to Shoot Portraits With a Clean, White Background

How to Shoot Portraits With a Clean, White Background

By far, one of the most common types of portraits you will be asked to shoot are those with a clean, white background. It is a simple, elegant, and versatile look that will never go out of style. If you struggle with artificial lighting, this excellent video tutorial will show you how you can easily shoot high-quality portraits with clean, white backgrounds.

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This Photographer Travels The World on a Quest to Find the True Definition of Beauty

Photographer Sara Melotti‘s career started with a meteoric rise in the world of fashion photography. But 3 years into a job that took her to some of the most glamorous places on Earth, she realized that she was contributing to an industry that she simply didn’t believe in any more. That’s how her project Quest for Beauty was born.

Melotti’s photographic journey began in 2013, and within 6 months she had gone from hobbyist to full-time photographer. Dubbed a “little prodigy,” she was soon traveling between New York, London, LA, and Milan to photograph beautiful people in beautiful places wearing beautiful clothing.

Then, one day, something changed.

“I had recently noticed that more and more of my (beautiful) friends were constantly saying horrible things about their bodies and the way they looked; I had been guilty of that myself, many times actually, to the point that when I looked in the mirror I would catch myself thinking ‘I wish I could Photoshop my face (IRL),’” she tells PetaPixel. “Then one day I was on set I was shooting a 14-year-old model and, without me asking her, she started doing very provocative poses. Way too provocative for her age. And in that very moment I felt a ‘crack’ inside.”

In that moment, she realized that the kind of work she was doing was directly contributing to a set of unrealistic beauty standards. Standards that made “my friends, myself and countless other women suffer—emotionally, psychologically and sometime even physically.”

“So I left the fashion industry and started solo-traveling the world and created my personal project Quest for Beauty,” says Melotti. “I photograph and interview women I meet on the road, asking what beauty is to them.”

The project itself is quite simple. Melotti travels the world shooting portraits of women she meets on the street, and uploading those portraits to a dedicated website.

Each portrait is accompanied by a short “interview” consisting of the same 5 questions:

  1. What is beauty?
  2. What’s the most beautiful thing in the world for you?
  3. What makes a woman beautiful?
  4. What makes a woman un-beautiful?
  5. Do you feel beautiful?

“As of right now I covered 15 countries and photographed hundreds of women,” says Melotti. “90% of the answers they give me have nothing to do with physical beauty. The most common answers to ‘What makes a woman beautiful?’ are: kindness, confidence, and empathy.”

“Images are powerful tools, they can influence the way see ourselves and the world, and if used in the wrong way they can have devastating consequences,” continues Melotti.

Her goal is to use her imagery for good: to help spread body positivity, and share the true definition of “beauty” with a world that’s inundated with advertisements and social media posts that very rarely reflect reality.

Scroll down to see a selection of portraits from the series, and click here to read the interviews that accompany some of these images:

“Beauty comes in every size, age and skin tone and we shouldn’t aspire to self-esteem-killer ideals, but embrace our imperfections and learn to love ourselves and our bodies the way they are,” Melotti tells PetaPixel by way of conclusion. “It’s time to change those standards, normalize beauty and have healthier media and more responsible image consumption.”

To learn more about the Quest for Beauty project, read the many interviews that Melotti has conducted around the world, or find out more about the photographer herself, head over to the Quest for Beauty website or give Melotti a follow on Instagram.

Image credits: All photos by Sara Melotti and used with permission.