backdrops and depth of field

July 09, 2017  •  2 Comments

I have been thinking about portraiture and commercial art lately, and how the backdrop for a portrait can either compliment it or create a distraction.  I see things in nature that seem to provide the perfect backdrop for a clothing shoot, a jewelry shoot or an environmental portraiture or straight portrait session. So I gave myself an assignment this week to discover some great backdrops, and how depth of field can help or hinder, depending on the subject matter.

Henry Horenstein, in his 2nd edition of Black and White Photography:  a basic manual, defines depth of field as the "zone of focus in a photograph or the distance between the closest and farthest parts of the picture that are reasonably sharp."  This is determined by the aperture setting (lens opening), the focus distance, and the lens focal length. 

In past blogs, I have discussed stucco and how it can provide the almost perfect, simple portraiture backdrop.  Another natural, unobtrusive, neutral colored background is sand, as the closeup below of a hole at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado shows.  The "fan" in the sand would not intrude but enhance a portrait.

Great Sand Dunes backdropGreat Sand Dunes backdrop


The sandstone below provides the background for a volcanic rock, but because the texture is primarily contained in the rock itself, the depth of field of the sandstone can be acute and in focus without disrupting the subject matter.

volcanic rock on sandstonevolcanic rock on sandstone

But the picture, cropped to just feature the rock, creates a totally different backdrop.  It is very sharp and angular, and might work well for a piece of jewelry.

volcanic rock on sandstone-2volcanic rock on sandstone-2


The palm tree bark, shown below in black and white and extremely sharp, would make a great and gnarly portrait backdrop, but again, I would need to be careful not to let the bark's character overwhelm the subject being photographed.

palm tree bark backdroppalm tree bark backdrop


The relatively shallow depth of field of a "big sage" (Artemesia tridentata) shrub, has just enough detail and soft color to make an interesting backdrop, again, for clothing or jewelry.

big sage backdropbig sage backdrop


The depth of field is shallow enough in the images of lavender and salvia below that the shapes have an impressionistic feel to them, making them more suitable for a written text overlay.

lavender backdroplavender backdrop

salvia backdropsalvia backdrop

I suspect I will be experimenting with this more in the future, and will, at some point, show how I use the backdrops.

until next Monday,


a passion for the [email protected]


Terry Thompson(non-registered)
Daryl, all good examples and comments. It is sometimes a problem to put a person in the proper position against a desired backdrop. I think the sand and sage are good examples. I've never investigated the high end software that would allow you to shoot the portrait against a blue or green screen background and then completely drop out the blue or green. Hair is the biggest issue of course. The pros know how to do it but I've only wondered. That would give you some great possibilities for creative portraiture that warranted the extra effort and production cost. Nice work...
Steve Immel(non-registered)
This is quite the treatise on depth of field and natural backgrounds for portraiture. I'm impressed by the amount of thought and study you give to these topics. I agree that the palm bark might overwhelm a portrait subject leading me to think that rendering it in soft focus might alleviate that problem.
No comments posted.

January February March April May June July August (2) September (4) October (4) November (4) December (5)