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Choosing a Backdrop

Author: Libby - Printique by Adorama

Article and Photos by Diana De Rosa
Choosing a backdrop has a lot to do with what type of a photographer you are. A studio or portrait photographer has an easier time choosing a backdrop than a sports photographer. And someone setting up shots outside also has it a little bit easier, because often they can decide where they want to place their image or have the person stand.
1. Not Too Busy
The best backdrops are those that don’t take away from the subject. It’s important that what catches the eye is the subject of your photograph. If your background is too busy the subject will be lost.

The darker background makes these dancers stand out.


Here the dancers are lost in the busy background.

Since I’m a sports and/or outdoor photographer more than a studio photographer, I’m going to focus more on that. In most every case the key is having a clean background. If you are doing an outdoor portrait shoot, look and see what the camera is going to capture in the background. It’s best if that final image has nice green grass, trees, a building or a softened backdrop. You really don’t want to see crowds or even single images of people or animals as the backdrop unless…
Yes there is an “unless,” and that’s if you are trying to capture the essence of where you are. For instance, if I’m at an Olympic or Pan American Games and I want people to know that is where I am, then I want my shot to include images of the five rings or something that shows the image was taken at an Olympic Games. However, if I want the image to stand out and the reader either already knows where it was taken or it doesn’t matter, then I want that nice clean dynamic shot. It’s a very different look and feel as you can tell by the two images shown.

This backdrop clearly shows where the picture was taken.


Cropping out some of the backdrop creates a more dramatic looking photo.

Often when you are shooting sports of any kind no matter what angle you choose the background will be different. So, don’t ignore that. Decide what you feel will best show off your photo. However, if the sun is involved, you also need to add that into the mix. The general rule of thumb on a sunny day is to make sure your back is to the sun so that the light falls on the image you are shooting.
2. Picking Your Location
Once you’ve determined the location of the sun, look over the setup and see what you think would make the best backdrop. Is there signage you’d like to get in the shot? Consider which angle would fit it perfectly. If someone else is involved in using these images, you need to think about what’s important to them, and make sure you include it as well.


Step & Repeat image was taken at the 2015 EQUUS Film Festival with founder Lisa Diersen and filmmakers Bruce Anderson and Julianne Neal.

Don’t ignore the judges or referees or other people in the ring. Know where they are and decide if you do or do not want them in the shot. You could even try a few sample shots for different locations to see what the final shot might look like and also how the lighting affects your image.
Choosing a backdrop is more than just getting there and shooting. It’s also about thinking ahead, doing some test shooting and making some decisions. If you do that, in the end you’ll be much happier with the images that come out of your camera.
We’d love to hear about your experiences. Take a moment to let us know in the comments section below, and remember to read Printique.com’s blog for more tips.
About the author
Diana De Rosa has been a journalist for over 30 years (writer and photographer) and recently just got back from covering her 8th Olympic Games. She has a passion for shooting horses but likes to take her camera wherever she goes. She is one of the organizers of the annual EQUUS Film Festival, a festival of only horse movies that this year takes place November 17-20 in New York City.