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Digital Photography Hacks by Derrick Story

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Create Soft Background Portraits

Do professional portrait photographers use special lenses and accessories to soften the backgrounds in their portraits? No, they don’t. They manipulate the depth of field, and this hack will show you how.

The previous hack showed how to create tremendous depth of field for landscape compositions. But when you’re shooting portraits outdoors, this is usually the last thing you want. For these types of assignments, you want your viewer’s attention locked in on the subject, not the background. The best way to accomplish this is to narrow your depth of field and focus your camera directly on the subject’s eyes.

Why Soft Backgrounds?

When everything works right, the result is a dreamy, soft backdrop that makes your model pop forward, attracting all attention to her presence. Generally speaking, the first thing viewers look at in a portrait is the subject’s eyes. The easier you make it for them to get to that spot, the happier they will be, at least subconsciously. Once they’ve viewed the eyes, they examine other aspects of the person until they’re satisfied and move on. To get a soft portrait background, like the one if Figure 2-21, try to get some distance between the subject and the backdrop. Then, open your aperture to limit the depth of field.

A portrait with a soft background

Figure 2-21. A portrait with a soft background

Distracting background elements, such as a tree growing out of ...

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