A Simple Portrait - Beauty & The Beast of a Background / by Christian Webb

The Mrs. -  Christian Webb Photo

I received a few inquiries regarding the above portrait of my wife.  A few had questions regarding the lighting, the retouch and the background.  A few just wanted to know how the hell I got so lucky having her as my wife!  That's a whole separate post!  But I can discuss the portrait.  

While I'd like to make this seem like some incredibly artistic, grand portrait of master photography that involved a $3,000 hand painted backdrop, a medium format camera and a fancy light......in reality, this is nothing more than a 5 min natural light photo of her sitting in front of an ugly old painted piece of foamcore I keep around.    In reality,  the subject here is everything and fortunately....she photographs so well.  I had little to do with it. 

Here's the SOOC shot with that nasty background. Nikon D800. Nikon 50mm 1.8,  f/2.8, 1/50, ISO 800.  

I sometimes shoot videos in my home studio and use that same piece of foamcore for my background.  I originally purchased a couple of them and spray painted them black to be used as vflats of sorts.  Over time, they got broken up and ugly.  I keep only the one laying around and will use here and there for random whatever.   Mostly to absorb or block light.   

My wife was preparing to leave for work. I saw her in her soft cashmere sweater, her beautiful belly, full and round at 31 weeks so I asked her to sit for a minute.  She was waiting on her UBER so literally, I only had a few minutes.  We haven't shot any real pregnancy pics as of yet and may not even bother.  As far along as she is though we wanted to be sure to highlight it, even if just a little and more casual.   

Oh that's ugly yeah? Works fine for when I'm sitting in front of it to shoot a quick video.  But for a beautiful portrait...it's the last ting you'd think of yeah? 

Oh that's ugly yeah? Works fine for when I'm sitting in front of it to shoot a quick video.  But for a beautiful portrait...it's the last ting you'd think of yeah? 

There are a few large windows and a large set of glass doors on the other side of the room that I use for the natural light.   She sat,  I got my exposure, posed her and took a total of 10 shots before she had to leave.  

Once I had her there, I immediately saw the vision of what I wanted and knew of course that I'd need to do some work in post to deal with that mess behind her.   

A bit of clean up in PS, some color adjustments and some final work in Exposure 7 and I was done.  If I were more skilled in my post work, I may have been able to come up with some even better looks. 

So the point of this post?  I just wanted to show that anyone, in a limited space, with limited gear and even the most random background can create truly beautiful portraits so long as the fundamentals of good portraiture photography are what lead your work.  Would I love a custom Oliphant backdrop? Heck yeah!  Do I really need one to get a decent portrait?  Not at all. No lights, 1 light, 4 lights or 10...hand painted muslin, seamless or a crappy piece of foamcore....doesn't matter.  

A portrait is all about the subject, the person.  If you focus on photography fundamentals, understanding light and know how to pose people,  you can pretty much shoot wherever with whatever in little time, with no prep or planning at all.   Get in the habit of finding random, spontaneous moments to see what you can come up with and learn fundamentals of light/exposure.   In addition,  master the basics of your post processing including how and when to utilize the right tools when you need them to create your final image as you see it.  

Here's one of my selfies while I prepped the set up for my video.  My wife of course makes a far better subject! 

Black turtlenecks are cool!  Someone said I look like I'm modeling a watch! lol.  Well, on that note then - Shout out to G-SHOCK! 

Hope this inspires some to use whatever they have to work with and not feel restricted by the lack of certain things.