Is it worth carrying backdrops for photography shoots when taking outdoor portraits? This is a question that arose in one of the photography forums I follow recently, and I have to say that it caused quite a stir and a lot of debate. There were those photographers who (from how they responded) always used photography backgrounds, some photographers who never used photography backgrounds and those who sometimes used photography backgrounds, to varying degrees of course.
I, for one, always have a stash of backdrops for photography shoots in the car however I don’t always use them. Given the choice my photography backgrounds would stay in the car, however there are situations and scenarios when the only way to get the shot is to use a photography background, and these include:-
Scenario 1 – When there is too much light
In order to throw the background out of focus it is necessary to use a wide aperture which, in bright and sunny conditions, isn’t always possible even using the lowest ISO setting. You could, if you wanted, apply an ND filter to the lens to slow the shutter whilst using a wide aperture but this brings about other potential problems like colour casts and white balance issues.
Rather than mess around with ND filters, and dealing with the other issues that arises when using them, I often suggest using a plain photography background for the shoot. The plain background makes life a lot easier, and also ensures I get the shot and won’t have to spend hours in the digital darkroom in front of the Mac and Photoshop Elements editing the photos.
If the client is insistent on a natural background I will revert to using an ND filter to take the shots. That said, I do warn the client the photo editing will take longer, and the longer I spend in front of the computer the more I will charge for the shoot.
Scenario 2 – When there is not enough room to get separation between the background and subject
In order to throw the background out of focus it usually takes more than shooting with the lens wide open, unless you are lucky enough to own a lens like the Canon f1.2L or similar. For those of us who do not have the ability to shoot at f1.2, and have to rely on narrower apertures it is important to get as much distance between the subject and the background as possible, and the narrower the aperture the greater the distance needs to be.
There may be times when there isn’t the space available to get good distance between the subject and the background (even at the wider f.14 or f1.8 apertures) resulting in both the subject and the background in focus, which is not good. Whenever I take outdoor portraits I want a nice, sharp shot which usually means stopping the lens down by a stop or so, which means the widest aperture I use is f1.8 (when I have my Canon f1.4 to hand).
I will never sacrifice sharpness and open the lens to its widest aperture to get the depth of field I need therefore in situations where it is not possible to get the distance between the subject and the background to throw the background out of focus to the extent I want, I will resort to using some suitable photography backdrops.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.