Several months ago I was on assignment to shoot Octavio Flores, the owner of Casa Flores Marina in Stockton. As Flores answered a reporter’s questions, nice, soft indirect light fitlered in through a large window next to the table where he was sitting. The rest of the room was fairly dark and his black shirt and dark hair blended into the background. Moving slightly to my right I could include some light coming in through a window at the front of restaurant behind him. Unfortunately it was only wide enough to encompass about half of his head leaving the other half in darkness.
The shadow side of his face blended into and was now lost in the dark background, and while that may have been good for a dark and moody portrait, it was a little too much for what I wanted. I could have used my flash to fill in the shadows but that too would have ruined the mood in the opposite direction.
But by just moving a few inches to my left, the light patch in the background was now behind the shadow side of his face. The light side of his face still stood out against what was now dark and the silhouetted half was now defined by the lighter area.
I’m always extolling the virtues of a clean background. Having clutter behind your subject can be distracting and take focus away from your subject. The most important thing is that you’re aware of and pay attention to the background and use it to your best advantage,