Using background cues to provide a richer story - or, in favor of the environmental portrait.

Out of focus doesn’t mean out of mind. Everything in the frame conveys information. In fact, the part of the image around the subject can be the richest area to provide context and flesh out messaging.

When someone looks at a photograph, that person’s attention is drawn to the point of focus, i.e. the main subject of the photo, if I’ve done my job right. But non-focal and peripheral vision, as well as the subconscious, take in the information from the background and start processing it immediately, blending the information from the background and unconsciously overlaying it with the information from the focal image. This delivers a more complete story to the viewer’s brain.

From my portfolio of portraits you can see I pay particular attention to background and work diligently to place strong “hidden messages” within the frame.  I try to impart concepts about the subject – “working team” manager or top-level corporate executive - and the firm the subject represents – warm and relaxed, suburban medical practice or innovative, unstuffy, successful company

I think this is one of the things that differentiates me from other corporate and business photographers. I spend just as much or even more time determining background images, lighting, etc. to elaborate on the company and the person’s message so it can be more powerful. This contributes to the impact and memorability of the image, so it can be much more effective.

One of the most useful tools I use in this effort is blur. While some background images are most impactful when those images are crystal clear (see my blog post: Did You Get My Good Side), controlling the level of blur, either with the camera during the shoot, or digitally in post-production, I can bring many elements into the frame (or leave them in the frame if they can’t be removed) without losing the eye’s focus on the main subject. It reduces the “busy”-ness of the image but still conveys recognizable elements that provide additional information about the subject. Even high levels of blur, where these background elements are barely identifiable they still convey certain messages about warmth, friendliness, casualness by incorporating even just the pattern of color and luminosity.

Of course, not all shoots require this skill. In fact, many executive portrait sessions are strictly governed to maintain background as consistent and universal as possible. And I am perfectly happy and experienced to shoot those. But for situations where complex messaging is extremely important, such as for magazine stories or annual reports, I find my approach to background messaging to be a potent tool to create the most successful, best look.

Using Format