3 Easy Ways to Get Better Portraits by Separating Subject from Background

One of the most common beginner mistakes in portrait photography is not separating your subject from the background. Fortunately, it’s an easy skill to learn. Here are three simple ways to make your subject pop and give your portraits more depth.

This short tutorial comes to us from photographer Manny Ortiz, who uses (as always) his wife Diana to illustrate three simple techniques: (1) Light your background separately, (2) Use a rim light to highlight one side of your model, and (3) Use two rim lights, one on either side of your subject.

Here are some before and after examples, in order, of the three techniques in action. Our personal favorite (and a classic go-to) is the first: light your background by hiding a speedlight behind your model. This creates a pleasing halo effect:

If you don’t like this, a rim light will still help your subject stand out:

And if one rim light is good, two is better, right? Well, maybe. We’ll let you decide:

This is a very basic tutorial, but the difference these basic technique make is immediately noticeable. If you’ve been letting your subject melt unflatteringly into the background, try it this way for a few shots and see which result you prefer.

And if you like this tutorial, check out Manny’s YouTube channel for more.

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