Watch background and lighting ratios in your photos

Nikon D750, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 50, ƒ/7.1, 1/160

When I am shooting something in the studio as simple as this setup is here I test a few things to be sure all the lights are as I want them to be for the final image.

Here is the setup for the photo above:

Watch your backgrounds

One of the things all photographers need to pay attention to is their backgrounds. Now not just compositionally, but just as important is the light ratio as compared to the subject. For the most part you don’t want it too bright.

Here your eye goes to the background and not the subject that I want your eye to go to first. Pay attention to this when you are shooting in natural light.

How do you fix this? You can move the subject or move your feet and circle the subject until you find a darker background. You can also add more light to the subject. You can do that with a reflector or a flash for example.

Now another thing I think can help your photos is a backlight shining on the subject to create a rim light.

Here there is a light just slightly behind the subject pointed down. Now here it is a little too bright. But sometimes it can work.

Nikon D4, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 50, ƒ/2.8, 1/60

Here are a few more examples of backlighting:

Nikon D3S, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 200, ƒ/2.8, 1/400
Nikon D3, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 200, ƒ/1.4, 1/4000

Now notice in the photos how the background is slightly darker than the subject. With photography you can take control of this with your camera. In all three of the portraits here I use an auxiliary flash off the camera to brighten the subject just enough so that the sunlit areas in the background were not blown out.

Three tips to remember:


  • Watch your background
  • Use Backlight
  • Watch the ratio of light on subject versus the background