What to Look for in Your Background
What to look for in a background shot. So, there's lots of ways that we can fake atmospheric depth. So, for example, I guess the first question would be what's atmospheric depth? When you go out to the mountains, and you look at the mountains, and you're like, okay there's a huge mountain range. And the first mountain is nice and clear and it's got lots of detail, lots of saturation. Next set of mountains back have less saturation, less detail, less contrast. Next mountain range after that, that's atmospheric depth. That's like stuff in the air that's creating things that look further away. So if I'm, for example, adding a mountain range into an image, I don't want to necessarily take an image of a mountain range that was shot close up if I'm gonna be putting it really far away. If I can shoot it in reality, and get it real, and get it exactly how it is, then my composite's gonna be even more believable. So if you want, you can fake it, but unless you're a photo-realistic painter, prob...
ably you're gonna be off by a little bit. And then it's the question of how much stuff you're gonna have put in the way and if anybody's even gonna notice. However, in my world, I love to create composites that people who really, really, really know what they're talking about can sit there and go, ah, you got that. (laughs) Which is nice because that's flattering, right? When you do something, it's like with any of us, if we talk to somebody who's a professional at what they do, and they sit there and they're like, oh, that little detail, you did that right. And you're like, yeah, somebody noticed the detail. That's awesome. So if you have, I like to photograph stuff with the proper atmospheric depth. So that means if I'm out photographing mountains, I'm probably gonna have a few different lenses with me. And then I'm gonna photograph close up mountains. So if I want close up mountains, I'm gonna photograph mountains that are further and further away. So if anybody watches the previous CreativeLive Photo Week that we did, we did one where we just added a mountain range really, really far away. Well, I photographed that mountain range really far away and that was intentional, so that I would have that footage to use it. So what to look for in a background shot. Try to match your lenses if you can, right? If you're buying stock then you're kind of guessing. But if you're out photographing it, try to match your lenses. Try to match your perspective. And always try to be aware of your white balance. White balance is extremely important as well. Watch your noise. So how much noise is in the image. You're gonna wanna watch how much sensor dust you have. (laughs) Which in my images is a lot. I got caught in a dust storm recently, so there might be some that we have to edit out. But in any case, all these things are stuff to keep in mind because you want to be able to make notes and then have that information going forward into the studio. So you want everything to be as consistent and coherent as possible.
As far as background shots, and you talk about different lenses, do you have a specific focal length and aperture that you try to shoot at for most things?
Yeah, well I generally will shoot, that's a really good question. So I will generally shoot background pieces at a variety of apertures. So that I have the options. But I have the ones I generally tend to use a lot are F11, F13, F8-ish. So stuff like that. (laughs) But that's just because when I'm in the studio, that's what I like to create. Yes.
When you're saying match your lenses, are you talking about to what you're shooting in studio to your model shot than to your background?
Yeah, try to keep it pretty close.
'Cause I notice a lot it seems like you have a lot of wide, a lot of background, not information, but a wide shot for your background and then it's harder to kinda shoot wide within studios, and I was just wondering.
About matching that.
So generally, what I like to do is I'll shoot a background piece with a 16 to 35 mil lens. So generally 35 millimeter is a nice size to be shooting a background piece at. And then I'll photograph the model on a lens that's close but a little bit sharper. So I'll photograph the model on a 50 mil lens. Because in my 16 to 35, I don't know if everyone else's 16 to 35 is like this. My 16 to 35 is kinda soft. It's not super awesome. It's not the greatest for shooting that. But I want the subject, the model in my image, technically that would be my focal range. If I was photographing that person on location with a 16 to 35, or a 50 mil lens, they would be the sharpest point. So I don't mind using a lens that's a little bit sharper than the one I shoot my background with because they're gonna be the focus point. If they were not gonna be the focus point, then I would shoot it with a lens that would make it a little bit softer. I actually made a mistake once at a workshop. And this is where I learned that lesson. (laughs) Which is a great time to learn things when you're teaching. (laughs) I had photographed a background, it was three images stitched together, that I had photographed on a 35 mil lens. And then I photographed the model, because I was building, I wanted him to be really compressed, so I shot him with a 135 L. Anybody's who's ever shot with a 135 L, it's a beautiful lens and it's really sharp. And it was way too sharp for the frame. Way, way, way too sharp. So I was building the composite in the class, and I was like, why is this not working? This looks like, it just looks like a composite. What's going on? And then I realized, well, because the quality of the glass, and the 135 L, compared to the 16- that I was using is so much better. So it wound up being way sharper. So I had to add a point-three-pixel blur to my subject and basically undo all the awesomeness of the 135. (laughs) So that's one of the things that can happen.
When you say that you wanna be really aware of white balance, is that gonna help with the exposure of what you add to the picture or is that something you change in Photoshop or how, or of lighting for something you're putting in the background as opposed to the main subject?
Exactly, yeah. Being aware of the lighting that's going on is also extremely important. So if I have hard-core directional light on my background, and then I wanna put my subject in, and I'm like, but I don't want a rim light, it's gonna look kinda weird, right? So once again, the direction of light is also very important. The exposure of course, you can adjust a little bit in post-production depending on how far you want to push it though, sometimes it can be a lot of noise or it can give you a lot of color damage depending on how you're underexposing your image. So generally I try to keep things within a certain range. But then again, if I'm experimenting, like I said, when I'm out shooting backgrounds, I'll shoot the stuff that's the formula that I normally do, and then I'll photograph some stuff that's just like, nah, I have 2.8, whatever. (laughs) Just see what happens, right? So it's, when I go out, I'll shoot terabytes of images for background pieces. And then I just kind of catalog them. I mean I can see them when I'm going through the photos. You can check the meta data and see like, okay this was shot at F2.8, this was shot at F11. With different ISO, different noise, right? So if you're out photographing your backgrounds, I just shoot for tons of options, since I'm like, I don't know when I'm going to be in Hawaii again. (laughs) So, I don't know how to vacation. If I go somewhere for vacation, I'm like, I haven't been here before. And then I'm just out shooting stuff and I don't vacation at all. (laughs) So, do we have any more questions on background shots? I will go further into this going forward, but if there's any... We're peachy? Awesome. Understanding the potential of your location. So this goes into my general theory on life, which is don't see everything for what it is, but see it for what it can be. So when you're on a location, and you're like, running around in some lava fields or whatever, which is, I just mentioned Hawaii, so I was there a couple years ago. And so you're sitting here like, this lava field is awesome. It was one of the pictures actually at the top right, the two, the couple with the lava fields. And I was like, oh yeah, it's horribly sunny out, massively directional light, and I was like (groans) but we're in lava fields, so I can't really complain too much. So what's the potential of that? What are the things I could do with that? Well, I could build buildings out of the lava fields. I could just start cutting it up and shaping, and puppet warping and ask my friends who know more about architectural design than I do, and be like, hey, I wanna build stuff. So that's a potential. It's not just seeing it as like, oh it's just a lava field. You just start hacking it up, right? So then, if you're running down a path and you photograph this awesome path and you're like, oh man, I just love the way it winds, but I can't really stand the buildings that are in the way. And you go, okay well, maybe I'll cut the buildings out. And they'll be like, okay what can I do if I replace it, I cut the buildings out. I'm like, I don't know, let's add some tall trees and some rainforesty crap that I got from over here and the grass looks kind of similar, right? So it's seeing everything not for what it is, but for what it can be. And that's totally up to you. Every single person, so I've taught a lot of workshops on compositing. And I'll give people the exact same stock files, and I have never had a class where two people shot the exact same thing. It hasn't happened. So that means, that's awesome. (laughs) That's exciting. That means that every single person, when you go somewhere, is gonna see something different. Which means when you're sitting down at your computer, and you're creating, you're gonna see something different from somebody else. It doesn't mean that sometimes there won't be similarities, but who cares? (laughs) So find a model who matches your story. So this is something that I see that happens a lot in artwork, where someone will create this amazing image, but then there's something off about the subject. And you're like, okay, why is there a bikini model with a tramp stamp tattoo, which is fine, I have no issue with either one of those, but why is somebody like that in an image that is styled 1920s? And like, this isn't coherent. It doesn't make sense. It's just, your subject is just as important as your background piece is for coherence and for making your story make sense. So there's general stereotypes for what's out there, and there's a reason why stereotypes exist. All right, so let's say you wanna do something that's really, really, really high-fashion. Generally those men and women are long, they're lean, and they're extremely slender. You wanted to do something pinup-y. Generally, of course not always, but generally the stereotype is, those women are size eight, size 10, size 12. Which is great. But try to keep everything coherent. All right, it's very, very strange to see certain things not making sense in the image. And you don't want once again, this goes back to somebody looking at your image and going like, oh that's really awesome, but. And you're like, oh no, not the but. (laughs) You don't want the but, you want people to be like, oh my God, that's really, really awesome. All the things are coherent. So if I'm photographing somebody who, wants this really awesome post-apocalyptic thing, I'm gonna ask, well do you have anything post-apocalyptic? (laughs) And sometimes people do. People are like, yeah, I do this kinda cosplay, and you're like, yeah. All right, so it's fine if people who are into that kinda stuff and I'm gonna elaborate on that in a little bit, but finding a model that matches your story is going to make everything once again one more step further into being cohesive.