Busy backgrounds distract attention from the subject of a photo, and backgrounds completely unconnected to the action make matters worse. This morning, I shot more rehearsal photos for the Ojai Art Center Theater’s production of Never Too Late. The theater is not yet available, so we met in the teachers’ lounge of a local elementary school. Like most employee break rooms, this one doubles as a storage facility. Brightly colored notices, posters, and other memoranda cover the walls.
When producing headshots in this room a few weeks ago, it was easy to find a relatively clear section of wall to use as a background. But today we wanted some images of interaction, requiring wider angles of view. Sometimes I could minimize the background clutter, and sometimes I could not.
If you get up on a chair and shoot down toward the floor, all the while zooming in for a nice tight composition, the cluttered room is no problem.
But when the director wants a shot of two people dancing while a third watches, the challenges multiply. No matter where we set this up, I couldn't get the shot, as there are stacked tables and brightly colored PTA notices all over the place. In this case, the room won and we could not produce a usable image.
A pretty girl in the foreground hides a multitude of sins. I always want to fill the frame with my subject, but theater PR photos need context. Despite TWO pretty girls (Jackie and Marilyn), the background here (and no, I don't mean Marty) is still annoying. The room wins again.
I did some clumsy retouching to remove legs and feet in the background, and it was the first time in a long time that I missed working in Photoshop, where I would have done a much better job. My hope is that the power of the giant figures in the foreground distracts from the weirdness and clutter of the background. Also, this image should have been my first hint that I wasn't stopping down enough for the depth between foreground and mid-ground elements. I would have liked better focus on the seated couple. This oversight came back to bite me hard in what should have been the best photo of the day.
Wide-angle lenses inherently deliver greater depth of field than longer lenses, but I still should have stopped down to f/8 or f/11 for this shot. No excuse: I got into a hurry and forgot. The trick would have been to find an aperture setting that kept all the people in focus but left the back wall blurry. But at least I know that my composition and lighting idea worked, and I'll probably do more cast pictures like this in the future.
Although I hated the clutter of the room, I loved the ceiling. Unlike a theater, this room’s ceiling is white. Instead of setting up diffusers and trying to sculpt light for each set-up, I was able to set remote flashes to my left and right, pointed at the ceiling. Using an on-camera SB800 for fill and trigger, I was free to move around and take pictures with a giant, diffused, overhead light source wherever I went. And, believe it or not, I put all three flashes on TTL for automated exposure. Even though I didn’t get every image I hoped to make, I always have fun working with my friends in community theater, and I got out of doing all kinds of yard work today, so even though the room was a touch competitor, I get the overall win!