Environmental Portraits, Location and the Importance Of Background

by davidbrommer

Yesterday I went on a motorcycle ride with my outlaw biker brothers (and fellow photographers) out of NYC and into Long Island. I brought along my trusty Fujifilm Xpro1 looking forward to shooting some portraits during the ride.

I wanted to shoot pretty wide open to get a blur going on the background, but it was mid-day and quite bright so f4.0 was about as open as I could go. I also wanted to show off the bikes, so I would be further back then my normal portrait shooting distance, thus increasing detail in the blur. The background would have to be considered and thought out as importantly as the subjects. As a matter of fact, I can’t emphasize enough a good background! I like to treat my photographs in three layers, a foreground (in this case the front of the bike), the middle layer (the subject) and the background. I place the emphasis in portraiture on the middle and the background; they are certainly the most critical of the composition, and finding a good foreground being a bonus.

18 f 2.0 2500 sec f 4.0

18 f 2.0 2500 sec f 4.0

First consideration on the background is keeping the horizon in a third. Never ever cut the horizon in half! In this portrait of Joe Otto on his big 1100 V-Twin Cruiser I made sure I lowered myself to ensure the horizon was placed 1/3 to the top. Notice the pavement line that leads your eyes up to the center of the image, and also the blurry car in the far top left, centered between grip and mirror. These background details are tiny, but are elements that ensure the portrait is pulled off with a compositional perfection.Relationships of shapes in the image should also be identified and included, the shape of the headlight mimics Joe’s helmet, so the included that in the crop.

35 f 1.4 4000 second f 4.0

35 f 1.4 4000 second f 4.0

 

In this next photograph of the Kingpin I found a background that has strong elements such as the board walk planks and the sign. While composing the image I would use the Bayside Marina sign to frame Kingpin, while being very careful where the light fixture in the upper left would be placed. During the composure I then noticed the second light fixture and made sure it didn’t touch the subject. I was conscious of the horizon cutting the frame, but the framing overided that consideration and I placed the Kingpin and his Honda RC51 Sportbike in the bottom 2/3 of the frame. By placing the subject in harmony with the planks, all the lines in the image push your eye to image right. F4 ever so slightly blurs the signage, but the intent look on the Kingpin holds the viewer’s eyes around the center of the image.

35 f 1.4 shot at 2000 second f 4.0

35 f 1.4 shot at 2000 second f 4.0

 

Jason took off his leather and underneath he sported a plain whte T with a v-neck. I thought of Marlon Brando in the Wild Ones and liked his casual pose over the handlebars. His HD Sportster Roadster is a new acquisition, and he loves it, the gesture in his left hand shows that. I asked Jason pose in this spot, due to the shade the tree to camera left affords. I like the texture from the cucoloris effect as well, not too strong, not too light. The rocks in the background mimic the bad-ass attitude of the Harley Davidson while the line of the path draws you across the image nicely. Horizon neatly placed in the top third with a hint of clouds.

All the images were shot jpeg with the b&w style applied, then imported into Snapseed with my ipad workflow used. Ride on readers, and keep a sharp on the background (and potholes for NYC riders!)

~David

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