Photo Backdrops: Why They Don't Matter

Every single day that I'm in our studio, someone comes in and asks me about the variety of photography backdrops we offer. They're always very concerned about how the backgrounds are going to look, how many we have, and how big they are. When I tell them we like to shoot on solid colors, I always get a big look of disappointment, and then they start firing off skeptical glances and talking to me like they're not being given enough options. 

Here's the thing: worrying about backdrops is a total waste of time. The only reason anyone should be asking about backdrops is to make sure that the photographer isn't using God-awful ones, like printed waterfall and beach scenes. Those are bad, and they'll ruin a photo. But the thing is, most of the photographers that have photo destroying backdrops will be the ones with the most backdrops to offer you. If you ask a photographer how many backdrops they have, and they give you 100 options, your photos are probably going to be bad because he/she is using them as a crutch. And it's funny, people who are overly concerned with backdrops NEVER mention the backdrops again after the shoot. Even when they preview their photos with me, it's not even a thought. After the photos are taken, their focus always shifts to expressions and poses. 

These people were probably very, very worried about the backdrop color being juuuust right. You can see it in their eyes.

This guy never mentioned backdrops, and yet all is well in the world.

A portrait photograph is about the subject, not what's behind them. The best backgrounds are the ones that aren't noticed. They should be seen, but not heard. If you look at a portrait and the first thing you notice is the backdrop, then the photographer didn't do his job. When a photographer is setting up he should be using his backdrops to accent and compliment what you're wearing, and that's it. If you're wearing a light gray suit with a blue shirt, a dark gray background would be a great choice to really make those colors pop. If you're wearing a black and gray suit, a blue backdrop would totally work. If a photographer has an array of solid colors to choose from, he's set, and you shouldn't worry about it. Here's some questions that are far more important for you to ask:

  1. What separates your work from other photographers?
  2. How long have you been a professional photographer?
  3. Do you shoot different depths of field during a typical session?
  4. What genre of photography do you specialize in?

If there are any cracks in a photographers armor, those simple questions will start to expose them. If you don't believe me, go over to JC Penny or Glamour Shots and ask those photographers any of those questions and watch them drown in their own confusion. It's more important to ask about a photographer about his/her experience and professional background then it is to worry about the tools they use. 

Now, this article is mostly about portrait photography. If someone is dressed up like a pirate, of course it'd be way cooler to have an ocean with a pirate ship in the background. But that type of thing can't be done correctly with some cheesy backdrop; it should be composited, and the price for that service should cost much more than a regular session. I love doing cinematic composite portraiture like that more than anything else, but if you're looking for a new Linkedin profile pic or your kids' Christmas photos, leave the handwringing over backdrops to your photographer.