It is always a pleasure for me to take portraiture shots, since I get to mix up various elements (subject, background, lighting, etc.) to create effective and evocative images whenever I could, and at the same time create a lasting bond with the people I work with whenever I would engage in activities such as this. However, since I usually do my shoots beyond the confines of a studio, some of the said elements can also be beyond my control. The subject's not much of a problem for me, as all it takes is some effective communicating to let them do the poses you wish them to do. Same goes for the lighting and gear, as I'm deeply familiar with their abilities and limitations that would allow me to produce the shots I need. The background is the one element that usually gives me the most trouble, especially if its design would do nothing more than to hinder the effectiveness of a photo, particularly in terms of bringing out its intended message or flavor.
One concrete example would be this shot:
Camera Settings: 1/200th sec. at f/8.0, ISO 100, at 34mm. focal length
I'm sure some of you might disagree, but there are simply too many elements that distract the eyes here. I wanted Jazz to be emphasized, not be deemphasized due to the white floors and walls. I wanted that sensual look where only a deliberately filtered amount of light would only fall on the subject, leaving the rest of her body to be shrouded in some shadow. Of course, this is just me, and in a way I like this shot. But I'm probably being too strict here, and for me, the background just doesn't work.
So, seeing no other suitable background in the place, I decided to get rid of it altogether by moving to a much darker location, therefore effectively underexposing the unwanted elements.
Here is something to take note though: as with the first photo in this entry, that's not a black background you're looking at - it only looks black due to the fact that our screens (and prints) can only deliver around 16,000,000 colors. The same can also be said with CYMK printing, wherein this process can produce around 10,000,000 shades. While we're still looking at a vast amount of colors, the variation is so minute that we can only perceive much less, both on screen and on print.
Here are some examples of how the "hidden" colors/shades can be seen by the naked eye by overexposing the image:
Camera Settings for the three (unaltered) shots - 1/200th. sec at f/8.0, ISO 100, at 85mm. focal length
The technique is pretty much simple in achieving these shots. First, check the background by taking an underexposed test shot without flash (you should only see black in the entire frame). Then, add an off-camera speedlight mounted on a softbox, positioned on her right. This is to properly control the light in such a way that it will only hit the subject, and nothing else.
The same can also be applied when shooting with an on-camera flash, even though this might give somewhat varied results, as can be seen in this example:
Camera Settings - 1/80th. sec at f/3.5, ISO 800, at 70mm. focal length
Here, I bounced my flash forward and to my right, and used a black foam to flag the flash, effectively eliminating any harsh light to directly spill towards the subject. The transition of light-to-shadow on the subject is much more even compared to the ones taken with an off-camera flash, but this is simply because I hadn't much choice as to where I can properly bounce the light. Oh, and the background? That's a dark blue wall. :)
So there you have 'em in three easy steps: underexpose (a lot) for the background, find the proper flash exposure for the subject, then isolate the outpouring light.
Gear used in these sessions:
AF-S Nikkor 18-105mm. f/3.5-5.6G Lens
Sigma 70-200mm. f/2.8II Lens
Sigma 85mm. f/1.4 Prime Lens
Nikon SB-900 Speedlight Flashgun
Pixel King Wireless i-TTL Flash Triggers