Having more than one background can be helpful for you the photographer, as well as your subject/model. There are many choices to consider when looking for a background; the cost, the material used, the location, and the hazards to you and your subject/model. There are two simple definitions for backgrounds; they are either man made or natural.
The man made backgrounds vary in materials; vinyl, canvas, paper, and muslin. The color choices for man made backgrounds range from the basic white and black to the more varied colors of traditional backgrounds of old portraits in formal paintings, which is often a combination of grey or neutral soft tones. Be sure your subject/model is complimented by the color choice of the background, as some skin tones look best when the background color is not bright. The size of the backgrounds range from small (4 feet by 6 feet) to the large (10 feet by 20 feet). Small backgrounds are often best for one individual when you are making a head and shoulders portrait (or can be used for passport photos). The larger backgrounds are often for taking a 3/4 (waist up) or full (head to toe) portrait of an individual or a group. Backgrounds can be displayed in a variety if ways; draped, suspended by rollers, clamped onto light stands, hung from a tracked system, or hung on a traditional background support (two stands with a crossbar).
Natural backgrounds are those that you find outdoors in the locations near you. This can be the fall leaves on the grass, a very rustic barn, a large waterfall, or anything that will be an added supporting cast to your subject. Watch to see that the color of your background and your subject don’t blend together, as your subject could disappear entirely in the photograph. Make sure the background is something you can use in your photograph. You may need to ask the owner of the rustic barn to sign a property release. There are also some popular locations in the southwest that now require permits for photographers to access the locations, as local and state agencies are trying to preserve the natural area from being damaged by too many individuals visiting it. Permits may be needed in other locations, such as a city park, or in front of a business or home. Make sure you have investigated those issues before you arrive and start to take the photographs.
CAUTION: be sure you carefully walk around and watch for any hazards for you or your subject/model in using backgrounds (man made; extension cords, low hanging lights or booms, lights that are too hot, background material in the way, natural; holes in the ground, large limbs hanging down, traffic, bystanders, or wildlife.)
Backgrounds are always impacted by lighting; the great, the fair, and the bad. In the next blog entry there will be some tips and suggestions on when and how to make sure the background you use is lit properly.
Which background do you favor more often; man made or natural? When was the last time you asked a city official or land owner for either a permit or property release? Does the color of your background help or hurt your subject/model? How familiar are you with the hazards of backgrounds to you or your subject/model?