Rule number one: there are no rules. A ‘mistake’ may not necessarily be a mistake if it helps convey the message or story or feeling intended by the photographer. I can easily think of multiple examples that go against every scenario described below. That said, for the most part, I’ve found these ‘mistakes’ to hold true. And if you want to achieve something very specific, then you either won’t be reading this article in the first place, or you’ll know when to bend the rules. The general viewing public probably has some preformed opinions of what is right/good, but these are born out of as much ignorance as conditioning by companies trying to sell more software or lenses or something else. There are rational reasons why these opinions may not necessarily be right in the context of fulfilling creative intention.
Regardless of whether you are shooting portraits, products, food, fashion, pets, or any of the countless other subjects that find their way in front of your lens, eventually you’re going to be faced with the prospect of clean lines or high contrast against a solid background. While shooting high-key against a white backdrop obviously poses different lighting challenges than let’s say shooting a dramatic portrait against a black background, there are certain aspects that are common to both, regardless of the color of the paper. It’s what all of this paper has in common that we’re going to take a closer look at today.