The background in a photograph can be just as important, if not more than the subject itself. When a background of an image harmonizes and complements with the picture’s subject, this is where the magic happens. Position, angle, subject, lighting and depth of field all come together, in harmony with the background to create an appealing image. Finding and using suitable backdrops is one of the most important tasks for every studio photographer. The type and colour of backdrops you use can seriously impact the quality of your photos, so you should take time to choose them carefully. There are lots of different materials that are used: a fabric (like muslin), paper, canvas or vinyl backdrops.
I often use backdrops to set off items that I want to showcase or to use as a background for a portrait shot. It’s important to me that I use a quality product because that’s the way to get the best image results. Here are my tips for getting the best results from your chosen photography backdrops.
- Don’t choose a backdrop that will take attention away from your subject. Be careful about those “fun” backdrops that have busy patterns or bold swirls of colour or even text. They can easily take the focus away from the subject of your composition. Sometimes those sorts of backdrops can make the image more edgy or relevant though, so use with care, but don’t count them out altogether.
- Coordinate the colours of the subject and the background – they need to work together. The purpose of the backdrop is to make the subject stand out and complement it. Because of this, you should choose a background color or pattern that highlights the subject, without detracting from them or it. The choice of colours should depend what the subject is wearing and their features, such as skin tone and hair colour. Or if you are photographing things you will want to consider the shapes and colours of those items. Always try out a few different backgrounds, including a range of colours (lighter and darker ones) for every subject you shoot.
- Consider the lighting you will be using. Every photographer knows that lighting is key. I prefer to shoot in natural light in a room with north facing windows, but that isn’t always possible and sometimes you are looking for a different light effect. The key thing to remember is that light affects how we see and experience colour and texture, so you do need to try your backdrop with your subject and your lighting, as the picture will be the sum of its parts.
- Position your subject with care. Your backdrop is essentially the frame for your image, so you need to consider how much of it you want to show in your shot. Do you want to set your subject off centre? That might add interest or a sense of movement to your picture. Many photographers follow the rule of thirds and this is often a good idea, but sometimes the best pictures break the rules.