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3 Ways Color Backdrops Improve Your Portraits

It’s December 2020, and after this dumpster fire of a year, we can all use some inspiration. I bought several colored backdrops during black Friday and couldn’t wait to work with them to create colorful portraits. Color backdrops can improve your portraits and improve your images in at least three ways.

1) Color Combinations

A bright yellow/gold backdrop was just what I needed to inspire me to create some new images. I tend towards dark and moody portraits and the bright colors pushed me to think about the color wheel and complimentary colors. It probably didn’t hurt that this is rivalry week and I’m a UCLA Bruin Alumni so I started with blue and gold.

2) Work Your Lighting to Bring Out the Colors

When you have a beautiful textured background, work your lighting to maximize the color and texture. A plain white background, even with a colored gel is just not the same as working with a textured canvas backdrop, in my opinion. In this shot I started with a simple one light set up, high and camera left, seeking a nice light triangle under my left eye (camera right). Once I pulled away from the backdrop for separation, I needed a backdrop light. Since it was a self-portrait, I could not use super shallow depth of field like f/1.2 even though my Fuji 56 mm can do it. I just could not be sure I could nail the focus in a self-portrait. So I shot at f/8 to get sufficient depth of field for sharp eyes and added a backdrop light. I worked the backdrop light with light stand, modifiers and distance until I settled on putting it below and center. I was getting too much spread of light and wanted a narrower spread of light so I put the flash closer to the backdrop.

3) Posing

I would have preferred some other models but on today’s date Los Angeles had 3,000 Covid patients in the hospital, so I stuck with the self-portrait. Sorry you have to keep looking at my mug. On the positive side, this encouraged me to work on posing. Before getting to this final image, I experimented with distance to background, level of chin lift, level of eye squint, level and rotation of shoulders toward and away from camera, and my relative position in front of the main light. I settled on a having the light brush my face for Rembrant style lighting under my eye, slight rotation in the shoulders, left shoulder forward and partial smile, no teeth. There are a million variations you can consider in your self-portraits, or when directing others. These are just some of the items I considered. 

Next Steps:

I'm looking forward to working with the three other colored backdrops to see what combinations I can come up with. I enjoy the mental exercise of thinking about color, lighting and posing combinations. Finally, l'm looking forward to working with clients and models safely when Covid settles down a bit. 

Get your inspiration where you can and have fun. We will get through these trying times together. 

Portrait bookings: kag@photosbykag.com

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