Well, the old joke (about a newspaper) is supposed to say “What’s black and white, and read all over?”, but you get the picture. In this case I’m talking about the background colour in your photographs. It ought to be simple, and not make much difference, but in creative portrait photography the colour of the background can make a huge difference to the effectiveness of an image.
Here are some example images where I have used simple studio lighting techniques to light the main subject. In most of them I’ve then controlled the background colour using another light on the background.
In this image the light falling on the background is what’s called “spill” from the main light on the right hand side. It’s lit the background just enough to stop it being completely black, which would have lost the subject’s dark top, but has kept the mood of the image.
Putting a large softbox behind the subject makes the background go white, which gives a much brighter feel to the image.
This brighter mood is helped by turning the subject so he is looking straight out at the camera. The very, very bright background causes a bit of lens flare around the edges of the subject, which lifts the colour up a bit.
With this studio portrait I’ve used a red filter on the background light. It contrasts well with the cooler blue tones of her clothing, and keeps the mood of the image up, even though the subject isn’t smiling. The light was carefully placed to give a gradation of colour density from left to right, and to make the bottom of the background quite dark. This made the image more interesting than if it was all the same colour density and lightness.
So that’s the black, the white and the red. This final image is almost the reverse of the one before, in that the background is blue, and the main subject clothes are red.
The blue background has an excellent contrast with the subject’s skin tones, and the pattern of the background helps to add extra elements to the simple composition. In each case the lights have been carefully arranged to give a brighter centre and darker edges. This means that the blue background is brightest close to where there is the most light on the main subject.
So, that’s a black background, a white background, a red background, and an extra bonus of a blue background.