Article from the Photo Pie Blog. Author: Jeremy Smith
Sometimes it’s good to look outside of our sheltered group when we want to encounter fresh ideas. That’s how the Renaissance was brought to Europe. One reason we are able to excel in so many fields in America is because we are continually in the practice of bringing in new ideas from different cultures. Even a lot of the creativity that we see on TV had their origins outside our culture (American Idol, Shark Tank, Wipe Out, and various dramas) in places like Britain, Japan, etc. Sometimes though, it’s a matter of taking what’s good and spitting out the bones--photography is no different. I lived in China for many years, and was fortunate to be exposed to some photography styles not seen as often in the Western mainstream. Granted, much of what I see overseas doesn’t meet my approval (we at Photo Pie have a very sensitive "cheesy meter"), but still there are some things we can take and assimilate into our own styles.
First, here’s a video about what the photography scene is like over there:
Over there backdrop photography is widely used for these wedding shots (more than is shown in the video), but in America the perception of backdrop photography has been damaged over the past few decades (and rightly so) because it has been done SO poorly, traditionally speaking. One of our goals is to show how backdrops shouldn’t equal cheese, but if done correctly, can make a very realistic and artistic image. In any event, here are a few tips that the Chinese use that we can use to make our backdrop shots just a little bit better.
1. Put in some foreground objects like leaves (and wind is nice too)
2. Fog, always a great effect that ads a sense of 3D and blends the foreground and the background
3. Use a prop in the foreground (a realistic prop, or something from everyday life).
Please don’t take this advice wrong and buy some gross looking, fake looking, manufactured monstrosity that doesn’t match the backdrop at all. Again, having something in the foreground is great for bringing a 3D effect, and it causes the mind not to cast as much doubt on the background because the foreground looks so real.
4. Make a connection with the backdrop –- reach out and almost touch it, or act like there’s some interaction with it.
This is a great effect for increasing reality, but be careful not to cast a shadow, because that will be self-defeating. A shadow in the wrong place is a key thing that can tip off the eye that something is artificial and not right. (P.S. there is not an actual piano in the image below. It’s a part of the backdrop).
5. Have the foreground subjects stand different distances from the backdrops.
The mind expects backdrops to be very close, directly behind the subject, but doesn’t as often think about the backdrop being very big and far behind the subject, therefore when multiple subjects are spread out, its sometimes convinces you that the environment is real. If you’re using the right type of backdrop, it also brings an extra sense of forced perspective and thus a 3D effect.
6. Match The Lighting
Lighting match is crucial to tricking the eye into thinking it’s a real live scene. To recreate this effect below, put at least one light source behind the subject and on the side that the sun appears on the backdrop. See Sunburst Road for another example of this type of lighting [link]). Flare is generally a great trick so that no one realizes you're using a backdrop.
7. Dress The Part
This suggestion is pretty self explanatory. When you dress like you fit in the environment around you, the mind doesn't things as much.
8. Crop off the floor, because where the feet touch the backdrop is often tell-tale sign that something is not real. Notice how the second and third pictures work much better than the first.