It can happen to the best of us; that moment when you panic and look at a location and your brain freezes and you can’t think of anything even remotely unique and fun to do. At that moment, try to remember to use your backgrounds wisely. What I mean by that is a background is not always just a background. You can play off shapes, reflections, contrasts (or lack thereof) and expand your possible shots exponentially.
Recently, I was in Portland for Mystic Seminars (an awesome, small group wedding photography conference) and met up with fellow Photofocuser, Levi Sim. Levi organized a fun bridal shoot for us out at iconic Canon Beach. The problem was, it was a chilly, rainy day and I admit was a bit nervous about how I was going to make this shoot worthwhile given the adverse circumstances until I remembered the little voice in my head reminding me to “use my backgrounds wisely”.
When we first got there all we had was a beach. The fog was pretty cool, but it was just some sand and water. I started out with having our bride play around with her dress and created a nice little dreamy scene, but I was stumped as to where to go next. As I was looking at the scenery, it struck me that it was overall, fairly monotone. There wasn’t a lot of contrast, and because of that, perhaps I could make it look like a bit like a seamless backdrop. Make it look like we maybe weren’t even at the beach. I got low (another one of my favorite techniques) but I wasn’t finding enough textural information in the sky that I wanted. So that meant I had to look down. I didn’t have a ladder or any way of getting elevated, so I asked my bride to squat down and voila! The perfect angle was created and the perfect background was created in the process!
Another way to utilize your backgrounds wisely is to look for shapes that you can play with. For this photo, Levi had been directing our bride to play with her dress as it had fluffed out around her. I turned to photograph her from a different angle and noticed how Levi was directing her in a way that mimicked the shape of Haystack Rock. It was really cool and I just had to find the perfect framing to play up that repetition of shapes. I thanked the weather gods while I was at it because the fog over the top of Haystack Rock helped to create the dreamy look and to naturally bring focus down to the most contrasty area of the frame, my bride!
Another part of using your backgrounds wisely is to consider how your lenses affect how the background looks as well as how your positioning from your subject can modify the scene. For both of these photos I used my 85mm, however, one one, I stayed back and enveloped my bride totally in the dark spaces of Haystack Rock and its’ shadow. She looks to be one with the setting. The other, I got closer and positioned the bottom of the dress at the bottom of the shadow and had the background frame her, but instead of totally enveloping her and dominating the subject of the photo, it serves to highlight the bride more.
Lastly, I wanted to remind you to look for interesting reflections in your backdrop. Most people don’t take time to stop and look at those little details, so when you can highlight the unexpected, the photograph creates more visual interest. Here, I loved how the ripples of the sand and the pools of water created such a neat reflection as I directed my bride to dance in the surf.
So the next time you think you have a boring or overly simple location to shoot it, remember that you really dont! By using your backgrounds wisely, you can create all sorts of variety with just a simple change in how you look at things.