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One of my favourite portrait techniques is to isolate the model by using a short telephoto lens and a wide aperture. The idea is to throw the background out of focus and keep the subject sharp, so there is a clear distinction between the two. This creates beautiful bokeh and the illusion of depth.
Another way to isolate the model is to place them in the light, against a dark background that is in the shade. The opening photo (above) used this technique. I asked the model to pose in a doorway, and she is separated from the background because there’s no light illuminating the interior of the building.
These techniques are very effective but sometimes the results won’t match what you visualized. It may be that the background isn’t quite as dark as you would like, or not out of focus enough. It may contain distracting colours or highlights. In these situations you can use Lightroom to give you a helping hand.
Take the following photo as an example. The model is an artist who creates artwork from scrap metal. He is lit by daylight coming through open doors to camera left. I originally visualized the scene with the background going dark. Here’s what I was hoping for (the final result, after editing in Lightroom):
In the event however, that didn’t happen. The workshop was illuminated by lighting coming through skylights and a window at the rear. The blurred area on the left is the door to the workshop – included to add a sense of depth and to hide a white metal tank in the background. The door is outside, so it came out very bright compared to the interior.
This is the photo, more or less straight out of the camera.
Quite a difference! Let’s look at some of the techniques I used to isolate the subject in Lightroom, and complete my original vision of the photo.
Here’s a before and after comparison so you can see the difference that those four simple adjustments made.
I’ve also created a YouTube video that shows how I processed this photo in depth.
You can also experiment with using the Adjustment Brush to select the background and making it softer by moving the Clarity slider left or desaturating it with the Saturation slider. Care is required with both techniques as they are easy to overdo – once again a subtle touch is best. They may come in useful when there are bright highlights or distracting colours in the background.
What techniques do you use to isolate the subject in Lightroom? Please let us know in the comments.
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