The backdrop in a photo can be just as important if not more than the subject itself. When a background of an image harmonizes with its subject, this is where the magic happens. Position, angle, subject, lighting, depth all come together with the background to create an appealing image. Photo backdrops can work with you, the photographer, to tell a story. It is prudent to follow a few tricks of the trade to ensure your backdrop is working for you, not against you.
1. Use good lighting. Good lighting is the essence of every good photograph. When using a backdrop, it is important to remember to keep your contrast in check. A background too light can distract from your subject and pull the focus away. Backgrounds too dark can highlight the subject in an unflattering sense.
2. Focus on the subject, not the background. Whether a subject is in the rainforests of Brazil or the Egyptian deserts (thanks to high pixelated backdrops), be mindful that the subject can easily get lost in their “surroundings.” The object is to make the subject the primary focus, and the background a supporting tool.
3. Pay attention to detail. Watch things like horizon lines, power lines, tree branches, etc. Sometimes it may look like a tree branch is growing out of a subject’s head or a horizon line cutting them off at the neck.
4. Fantasy land. Backdrops can literally take your subject anywhere! Ancient Rome or even standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. Use a relevant backdrop to fit the “theme” of your photo. For example, a marvelous ballroom with glittering grand chandeliers begs for a couple dressed in exquisite party attire.
5. Stick with matte. Shiny backdrops may be pretty and all but they are not great for photography. Matte doesn’t produce glare or those creepy orb looking shapes.
6. Position your subject appropriately. You do not always want a subject smack in the middle of your frame. Live by the rule of thirds; Visualize 2 horizontal and 2 vertical lines and plop your subject somewhere where the lines intersect. It’s not a rule to follow religiously but it most cases it will enhance the composition of your photo.
7. Be proportional. If you are using props in your photo, remember that it must be proportional to the scene on your backdrop. For example, if your backdrop displays the Eiffel Tower in the far distance, it will appear rather small. Any props in your photo should be directly proportional to the Eiffel Tower so as to make the image believable.
8. Utilize angles. Like proportion, angles are essential to the composition of your photo. Be sure to angle your subject and/or props in relation to your backdrop. This applies more when there is a scene depicted vs. a solid colored background.
9. Blur the background. When you want your subject to pop in your foreground and your background blurred, create a shallow depth of field. Choose the Aperture setting on your camera, choose the lowest f-stop, and stand a good distance back from your subject.
10. Simplify the background. Sometimes for a shot simpler is better. A nice solid background with no distractions and only your subject to fill the frame.