Subject Within the Scene
Then we have backgrounds. We have location, we have color, we have lighting, we have all of these elements, props that go in, wardrobe, but what about the background of an image? I know that you might be thinking, "But the background is the same thing as location." Yes and no, because it's how we choose to photograph our locations that give us the background. I can say with some certainty that these are not my best photos that I have ever taken, and it's because of the backgrounds in these pictures. I remember taking this image in the forest, and this was, like, week one of taking pictures, that I had just started taking photos, and I decided I was gonna go out, and get some balloons, and do this photo. I ended up with an image that was so confusing to look at. It just drove me nuts because I'm wearing a black dress, and the trees are all dark, and it's winter in Philadelphia, and it's just so crazy to look at. I ended up in this church in New Zealand, and I thought it was gonna be the...
best location to photograph in, and it just looked really confusing when I finally got my camera there. Could I have chosen something else? Yes. What if I had just set her down on this beautiful ornate floor and photographed from above? I would've been so much happier with this image than I am now. This was also from my first week of creating, at the train station. I can solidly say I did not know anything about taking pictures at that point, so I've got these distracting lights in the background, and this sign that says, "Danger." I wouldn't do this again. Just so you guys know, I'm very into safety now, in train stations, and I wouldn't do that. Then we have this picture, which, I actually loved the background. I had seen pictures of this. It was used in the Les Mis film. I was so excited. I was like (gasps) "I'm gonna shoot there, and it's gonna be wonderful." And I got there, and I loved it, and my thought was, "Okay, I'll put my subject "in the stream of light so that she stands out." My problem was, putting her in this nude leotard where she doesn't actually stand out at all. There's plenty of light going on in the picture, so the fact that I put her in it is, I guess, helpful, but not quite right for this background that's so confusing to look at. That's where I feel that I've gone drastically wrong. But in stark contrast, I visited this chateau in France. It was gorgeous, my favorite place that I've ever photographed, and there were plenty of rooms with a lot going on, with furniture, and mirrors, and fancy doors, and all sorts of stuff, and I just, I kept taking my camera in there, setting it up, and thinking, "There's so much going on in the background." It kept distracting me. I love simple backgrounds. It's just my favorite thing. So I'm going for a background where there's almost nothing in it, where it has enough character, it does tell a bit of a story, but really, the focus is not on the background at all. This was photographed in the same place, just in the room right next door to that, and again, making sure, there were about seven bathtubs in this place, and I could've chosen any of the bathtubs. Some had windows behind them, some had curtains. This was the only one that had a blank wall and nothing touching the tub, so I decided to use this one 'cause it was as simple as it could be. This background was very complicated, but in this case, I decided to edit my subjects into the scene so that I could light them as bright as I wanted to without having them blend into the background. So I could darken the background manually, brighten my subjects manually, and then there wouldn't be so much confusion with the subject and the background here. Here we have another one, which, I don't even think you can get any more simple than this, where I took my favorite tool, my brush tool, and I just painted the background out, which, I'm sure, had a house back there or something like that. I simply painted it out because I wanted to make sure my subject would be the thing that stands out in this image. Now, I'm not saying that you can't have complicated backgrounds, but simply to know if that's going to be your focus or not, and if not, consider, is it complicated for the right reasons, or is it complicated because that's just what it looks like, and you're there, and you're gonna shoot what's there? Always important to remember. Here's another image that is made very simple after being very complicated. That was the original image here, just a tree. (laughs) It looks like a cell phone picture even. I will admit, this is really embarrassing. Yeah, there's a car in the background. I actually have the next picture. The car's over here now, you know, really fast. Okay, so I decided to use this tree, and see what I could do. It was a challenge to myself to see if I could transform the space. I started to expand the tree outward. We've got some roots popping in here that I photographed from a different spot right around the same area. There I am, hello. And then there we go, no more car, isn't that great? What if I had left that, you guys? What if I had left that? It would've been a drastically different photo, right? This would not have been the same image, and even without this building, and the car in the background, it's still so confusing to look at. You almost have trouble seeing the separation between the tree and leaves in the background. So I painted it right out, and I started to refine the image, making sure that it is cohesive, making sure that the lighting works, that the wardrobe works, that the colors work, and just doing everything that I can to refine, refine, refine. There, we have the first picture that I'm very glad that you laughed at 'cause it's really bad, and I need to be kept in check, and then the final. You may think, "Why did you bother with that picture? "Why didn't you just try harder "and go get a better photo?" I agree, I have nothing to say, except I am lazy, but it worked, you know? The fact is that there's a lot that you can do with the location to really alter it to fit your needs. This is my very fast little speed edit here, but I like to start with nothing. You'll see, as this comes around again, that this was just a hill, like, a hump of dirt with grass on it. In case you didn't know what a hill was, that's what a hill is, okay? I decided to manipulate it to fit what I needed it to be. I wanted there to be this straight line going through the image, this straight, dark line, really bold, really graphic, and then I mimicked that with the smoke that I added in later. This location just didn't exist. It just didn't. I couldn't find something like this, so I used the background that I had, which was a normal little hill, and I shaped it to what I wanted it to be. I'm not saying, "Do that." I'm not necessarily saying, "Go out and composite any background you want," though it is really fun and very convenient. What I'm saying is, just really pay attention to shape, and form, and what a background looks like so that you can make it how you want it.
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