Just back from Patagonia, had a good trip with everyone, and some great laughs! We photographed a wide range of subjects, from landscapes, ice climbers, wildlife to tango shows. Some of my favorite images from the trip are portraits.
Backgrounds are an important part of a portrait, they either add some context to the image, or they are almost featureless to focus the viewer on the subject. We photographed a gaucho for one shot, and including the environment was key to making this shot. Gauchos are cowboys of the Patagonian landscape, herding sheep with their trusty dogs across miles of open country. For this shot I used a 45mm tilt shift lens to blur the background and add some mystery to the image. A single SB900 was used off camera to add catchlights to his eyes and open up shadows under his hat.
Throwing the background out, or making it blurry, can be done at capture or in post processing. I always like to do everything I can at the camera level, so for the second portrait I used an f-stop of F1.4 on the new Nikon 85mm 1.4 lens. This lens is beautiful, and the pleasing blur it gives to shot is hard to match. I focused on the tango dancer’s eyes, knowing that everything else would rapidly fall out of focus at this aperture.
Always consider your background with a portrait. Does it add to the image, or distract the viewer from the subject? If you have a busy cluttered background, just use shallow depth of field and throw the background out.