Annabel Williams takes two readers out onto the streets of London to show them how to use the urban environment to achieve successful portrait shots. Tom Doyle reports

Portraiture Masterclass – It’s behind you

As well as the person you’re shooting and the clothes they’re wearing (or, in Soroush’s case, often not wearing), another aspect of a good shot is the background. Annabel picks out a few backgrounds that are
ideal, including a vivid yellow security entrance that contrasts well with Soroush’s green coat .

Photo by Sue Kennedy

A strong background can make an otherwise ordinary portrait shot excellent

While Annabel did her homework beforehand, the chance to
find another location while milling around can’t be passed up, and she stops on numerous occasions to sample what’s on offer.

While shooting with model Gus,
she takes the chance to utilise some well-placed graffiti in a car park in
Suffolk Street.

The heart shape will apparently work well above his
head, but Annabel warns to be vigilant as to the content of the graffiti beforehand.

‘You don’t want to find a great location, take beautiful shots and
then realise that all your pictures are unusable because you have swear words in the background,’ she says.

Another thing to consider is where your background runs in terms of your subject. A striking building near a pub offers a strong green wall set against the dark uniformity of drainpipes. ‘Make sure your subject doesn’t look like they have objects growing out of their head,’ Annabel warns. ‘This would be the same in any location, but in central London, a seemingly tranquil background can quickly become choked with movement and clutter.

Photo by Helen Schryver

Then Annabel spots some great graffiti, and even though the lighting is poor, the strength of the background, combined with Gus’s strong looks, allow the chance for a ‘man in a scene’ look.

‘The shadowing of Gus’s eyes doesn’t matter so much because of his good looks,’ says Annabel. ‘Plus, the background makes the shot really quite interesting. The wall may look like junk to some, but for our purposes, it provides a rich backdrop.’

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Portraiture Masterclass – Preparation
  3. 3. Portraiture Masterclass – Working with Models
  4. 4. Portraiture Masterclass – It's behind you
  5. 5. Portraiture Masterclass – Lighting
  6. 6. Portraiture Masterclass – Phoning it in
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