Exercise 1.2 • Background as context (portrait)

This is a portrait of my wife, Jan in our back garden. Jan is a keen gardener; indeed, she does most of the work in the garden (except for ‘heavy lifting’). Therefore, I wanted to use the garden as the background because it tells the viewer about an important part of her life. We did the photoshoot at breakfast time, before she left for work, and used the watering can as a prop because (a) it shows her involvement with the garden and (b) it represents a typical activity for this time of day.

Here are the contact sheets:

Technical notes: all images made with a full-frame DSLR and 24-70mm lens, aperture-priority automatic at f/2.8 to blur the background. On-camera flash used in TTL mode with -1EV correction because I wanted it to lift the shadows but not compete with the sun.

After the early failures, we moved into the shade using the garden chair as a secondary prop and the hedge and foxgloves as background. We both like foxgloves and they are a feature of the garden at this time of year. I experimented with changes in camera position, eventually settling a little lower than Jan’s head height because that gave a good ‘balance’. Although most of the images have Jan looking directly into the camera, there is something uncomfortable about them and the one I selected has her looking off slightly to camera-right. She was probably distracted by something elsewhere in the garden (a weed needing attention?) and I felt that this was a truer expression of ‘who she is’ than the direct gaze images. Here is the final version after a few Lightroom tweaks.


There are some incidental details, pleasing but not entirely planned. Jan prefers to be barefoot in the garden and there are colours in her skirt that are reflected in the foxgloves in the background. I am pleased with the final image (and so is Jan, so it must be OK)


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