In creative portrait photography, as well as making sure that the person is shown at their best, it’s important to control what’s happening in the background. Most of the time a simple, uncluttered background works best.
In this child’s portrait I liked the background because the neutral grey matched the colour of his top very well, and was a perfect complement to his hair and skin colour. It was taken with a telephoto lens set at a wide aperture to blur the background.
With this type of image you should experiment with the position of the subject relative to the background, so as to give good blur but also retain some texture. The closer the subject is to the background the less blurry the background will be.
In this image, of a boy with a confident expression, I’ve controlled both the blur in the background and its brightness. He was lit by a studio flash set at a low power to allow the use of a wide lens aperture, and the shutter speed was set so that the background rendered quite dark. This meant that the light tones in the background weren’t distracting.
This business profile portrait, although it was taken in my portrait studio near Swindon, was lit with natural light through a doorway. I’ve used a white muslin background which was nicely creased, and once again the use of a large lens aperture has given a simple background with a little bit of texture.
When I was shooting this image there was a bit too much sunlight bouncing off the wood laminate floor, so I used an appropriately-sized rectangle of material with a low level of surface reflectivity, (the studio mat), to control it. The mat is mottled grey with a rough texture, and is perfect for absorbing excess light!
There are times when you want the background to be as simple as possible, and a plain white background is ideal for that. In this second business profile portrait, the light is coming from a flash shooting through a white umbrella to the left of the camera. As before, it’s important to keep the subject away from the background; in this case it’s mostly to reduce shadows, but it also blurs any imperfections in the background paper.
So, as you can see, it can be quite complicated to ensure that your portraits have a simple background!