In the studio, making your subjects stand out from their background is relatively straightforward. Because you have control over everything. You choose what goes behind them, what lights you use, and where they go. Outdoors, though, these options aren’t always available to us. We have to work with what our environment provides. So, how can we get some separation between our subject and their background on location?
In this video from photographer Moose Winans, we hear what’s going through his mind when photographing things outdoors. What he’s looking for, and how he finds it. Some of it is backgrounds that complement the primary subject from a compositional standpoint. Other tips include using brightness and contrast to your advantage to make your subjects stand out.
Some of the same principles can be applied to shooting portraits on location, too. Like putting a brighter object on a darker background. I’ll often put my human subjects so they’re standing in the light, with a background that’s in shade. The eyes are generally drawn to the brightest thing in the shot, and that’s what we generally want them to look at.
The reverse can also sometimes work, too. Putting a darker subject onto a lighter background. Even though our eyes are drawn to brightness, of the entire shot is bright, we’re instead drawn to the darkness. Although, I’d personally pull it a little further away from the shadow of the tree limb.
Patterns, like those seen in the header image can also be a great way to complement your subject and have it stand out. Unless you’re into really awkward poses, zigzags don’t always work well with people. But, there may be rock formations or trees growing in a certain shape that can compliment a human form.
So, don’t just put your subject anywhere. Look around see what’s there that can contrasts and complements your subject. But, please, try to stay away from brick walls.