Using Bold Color in Portraiture – Tips and Techniques

Do not be afraid. Come on in. Shut the door behind you. Put on your shades, if need be. Throw caution to the wind as you enter the High Color Zone. Two of my absolute favorite things in life are color and photography.  Let’s combine them and see what happens.

There are several ways you can create a rich, saturated backdrop. Many of them involve multiple light heads, specialty brackets and hardware, and colored gels. I will focus on the easiest and most economical way to do it, which is with a basic, one light set up. You don’t need to light your background and can just let the light fall off. This will render your backgrounds richly saturated. You can view the basic lighting set up in my Photographing Young Children with Low-Key Lighting tutorial and view suggestions and links in How To Set Up A Photo Booth In Your Home.

Using Bold Color in Portraiture - Tips and Techniques

Using Bold Color in Portraiture - Tips and Techniques

Using Bold Color in Portraiture - Tips and Techniques

Using Bold Color in Portraiture - Tips and Techniques

Using Bold Color in Portraiture - Tips and Techniques

Using Bold Color in Portraiture - Tips and Techniques

The entire session above was shot against intense tulip background paper. As you can see, we rocked that color for all it was worth, going both romantic and modern.  Never let it be said that pink cannot function as a ‘neutral’.  If you are interested in the paper I used, it is Savage Tulip in 107 inch, but you can also order it in the 53 inch width.

Several years ago we bought and renovated a 1964 ranch style home on the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks.  Literally.   But that’s another story.   My studio was in the living and dining rooms. One of the concessions to working in smallish places is making everything do double duty. I kept the living room portion as my main camera room and therefore, the walls and ceiling were painted a clean, true white, to make sure any light bouncing around remained ‘neutral’. The dining room was my ‘presentation’ room for presenting multimedia shows for our clients. I had the walls in the dining room portion painted a rich and textured shade of red, but because I knew I also wanted to shoot in there, they were painted with a matte finish, so as to avoid glare and hot spots.

Using Bold Color in Portraiture - Tips and Techniques

I had the perfect opportunity to shoot in there when I did the music CD cover shots for Amy Lee, saxophonist extraordinaire.  She played with Jimmy Buffet and the Coral Reefer Band for many years and was just going solo.  She wanted a lush, sexy new look and by golly, we gave it to her.  We did several looks that day, some in the more typical white high-key, but her faves and ours were the ones shot in that red room.  Ask me nice sometime and I might tell you how I lit it.

Using Bold Color in Portraiture - Tips and Techniques

Here is the actual CD insert:

Using Bold Color in Portraiture - Tips and Techniques

If you ask almost anyone what they think the most difficult or challenging color to work with is, most of them would probably say orange.

Using Bold Color in Portraiture - Tips and Techniques

Not me.  I LOVE ORANGE.  This fabulous family was so energetic and lively it was the perfect background for them.  Of course, we discussed and agreed upon this vivid shade in a pre-shoot phone consult, wherein I offered suggestions for clothing.  Once they arrived at the studio, we were off and running.  Of course, it never hurts to be prepared to change colors and course, if need be.

Using Bold Color in Portraiture - Tips and Techniques

Using Bold Color in Portraiture - Tips and Techniques

Using Bold Color in Portraiture - Tips and Techniques

So, don’t be afraid of color.  Granted, it’s not for everyone, but if you have clients and friends who are up for the fun, grab it and run!

Look for future articles on how to make sushi with nothing more than a soft box and synch cords.  Just checking to see if you were really paying attention.  Because everyone knows you need a radio release to make sushi.  Geez.

If you would like to read more, check out these articles:

High-Key Portrait Lighting Tutorial

Low Key Portrait Lighting Tutorial

Photographing Young Children With Low Key Lighting – Tutorial

Studio Lighting for Headshots – Tutorial

How to Set Up a Photo Booth in Your Home

How to Photograph Large Groups in the Studio

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4 comments

  1. What an awesome idea. I learn a lot by reading your blog!

    -aep

  2. your blog is great help thank you for sharing your knowledge!

  3. I have the tulip background that you mentioned and was wondering your thoughts on using it outside in natural light. Can I do anything to keep it from looking washed out?

  4. deborahwolfe says:

    Hi Rosa,

    Try placing your background in a bright, open area, out of direct sun OR try using scrims. Good luck! Let me know how it turns out.