Ordinary to Extraordinary Episode One

Ordinary to Extraordinary Episode One

In this post, I want to share the process of how I seek my backgrounds. Background/canvas the second part of my five principles I use to create with every photograph. I’ll explain those through a series of posts.

One of those, actually number two, is background, or as I call it canvas. Your background doesn’t have to be a scenic place or park, or some fancy gardens and infrastructure. Canvas is what we place our subjects on to, and canvas can be anything we want to place them on. Things I look for are:

  • Depth of field, what the canvas would look like in bokeh
  • Color, could be solid walls
  • Shapes, unique shapes and designs
  • Light, colored light against a white wall
  • Foreground framing, framing your subject into a background

Below are some examples that illustrate that.

before and after of location

Seek angles to change perspective

In this photo, I found myself at a church that was in a family neighborhood. It had very limited grounds. In my search, I found this overhanging tree and a grassy knoll, as you can see there is a slight hunp in the grass. I framed out the shot in my head by changing the shooting angle. If I can get low enough, I can cut out the parking lot and make the couple look like they are on a grass hill. That worked out great, I was able to get a foreground focal point with the trees overhanding with a background blur shot on a 70-200mm 2.8. I positioned two speed lights to the right to create a direction of light and fill the shadows.

background example

Fill the frame to create canvas

This is a popular structure at the Michigan State campus. When I saw I wanted it as my background, but it was tough to find a way to position the against it. We walked around to the back of the building and I found a tall grass hill that make a great place to position the couple to the background. I positioned myself to the get the right lines into place so they didn’t intersect behind the couple, and to get the triangle pattern to point to them. This was shot with a 24-70, with two speed lights clustered for fill light.

Plain Canvas

As you can see in the right photo, I was in a sleeping room. I search the whole church to find a light source. One directional light source, would serve as my light source. From here I am able to position the subject to great a split light effect on the groom. Split lights on men, always look good. Makes them mysterious and it’s more dramatic.

Foreground Framing for Canvas

While scouting my sets, I really like this tall grass. I found that if I can position the couple behind hit and with the intersection backdrop, I can wedge them in between the two. One of things I learned in print competitions as a rule, is to never have intersecting lines at the neck level of the head behind the subject. This draws distraction with the eye on the couple. So I positioned myself to get them below tree line behind them.

Additive Gel Light as Canvas

As you can see in the right photo what I was dealing with. This was not the ideal spot, I had a wall of window light coming in from the right. It was very bright as you can see. I didn’t like the background, and I wanted to bring more mode to the dance. I decided to set up two tripods and use my most used light modifier the Rogue FlashBender. I used the FlashBender to snoot the flash on the couple, and on the other flash unit, I use the Mag Mod Basic Kit with Gels. Which is an amazing, well built and easy to use modifier system for flashes. I stopped the exposure way down to get the room dark, which resulted in a series of shots that were more dramatic.

Subject as Canvas

In this first look of the bride and groom, I didn’t want to use the generic meet in the center aisle approach. I wanted the window light source to be my main light. So I staged the shot on the end aisle and position the clients with the light. The goal was to fill subjects in the frame, so essentially they become the canvas, and this reduces any background distractions.

bride at alter

Symmetry as Canvas

In this set, I needed to get a full gown bridal shot. On the right is what I was working with. I saw this beautiful stained glass window, so I wanted that to add to the mood. I rearranged the decor to create symmetry. In the shot set up, I used a single light source, with my Rogue Flash Bender to a snoot on camera right. I exposed to the stain glass and adjust the flash power down.

background colored wall image

Shape as Canvas

Walking around downtown Grand Rapids at night, we did an evening engagement shoot. What I loved with this spot, was I found the shapes leading out of frame, and the traffic lights were illuminating color on the wall. We found this opening, and I had my assistant holding my Ice Light. The Ice Light is my go to light source in tight space and using in additive light. It is so incredibly well made, I’ve had mine for 6 years and use it just about every shoot. Pricey, but worth it. It’s paid for itself 10x over in those 6 years!

Contrasting Color as Canvas

Funny thing was I never coordinated their outfits to contrast with the background. This was just a simple find in our walk around downtown. We did a series of playful images against this colored wall to be our canvas, which just makes the red really stand out. So play with the color of your clients outfits to the background you seek.

Reflections as Canvas

This was taken in downtown Grand Rapids at Rosa Parks Circle. This building creates a great reflection during a certain time in the day. Most people would be challenged with the road behind the couple. In order to crop out the road and walking people, I need to get really low, as you can see my camera was on the ground. I used a flash on a tripod to add fill light to the couple. 

Pattern as Canvas

This is an example of using pattern as a canvas, whereas I find the pattern, or shape first. Then I figure out how to incorporate my subjects into the pattern. Pay attention to rule of thirds here, using the columns as 3 with the subjects in third. The pose is made, the expression is created and voila. 

Prev Before and After Episode One

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