Learning Light-on-Dark and Dark-on-Light
Recently, a technical challenge forced me to try something new, and what I learned has completely changed how I do backgrounds.
The challenge was in completing the below portrait of Tag, a 14 year old bright white Labrador Retriever.
After putting together a composition from several different reference photos, a process I discuss in this post about compositions and the portrait process, we looked at what could be done for the background.
Up until this point, I had been using primarily white backgrounds with a slightly darker vignette around the edges. These simple backgrounds usually make the subject pop and keep the viewer’s attention.
But with Tag, that wasn’t going to work because she was effectively white herself. If I’d continued with a white background, we might have gotten something like the image below. Disappointingly flat.
White Portrait Background with a Vignette
Where’s the contrast??
Apart from her nose and eyes, there is very little excitement here. With no sharp edges around her head, our attention wanders from there in search of interest, and we find… her armpits. Why? Because they have a lot of contrast, and contrast holds attention.
Introducing Contrast and Colour to the Background
Here, the contrast under her belly is minimized, and her face is dramatic and three-dimensional.
Colour can also be used as an all-over contrast enhancer just by choosing a value that is opposite the subject. You can see some examples of that in this post about Colourful Pet Portraits.
I also have a video that shows a direct comparison where I’ve added colour to the background, on my YouTube channel.
More Light on Dark, Dark on Light in Action
In the example below, black is used to draw attention directly to the face. But, where the body is dark enough to show up clearly on white, the canvas is left bare.
Other Background Considerations
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