Photography is an art, and art is supposed to be clean and meaningful. But what happens when you’ve scheduled a shoot where your subject lives or works, only to find a huge mess once you get there? It happens to me more often than you might think, and I don’t want to be impolite and simply start cleaning (even though it would yield better photos). That’s why I’ve come up with three techniques you can use to cheat your way through the mess.
I’m not going to include what I consider to be the most important tip, but I will mention it. Knowing that the situation is too messy is the first step. It’s very difficult to get a good looking photo when there are distracting elements in the background. I’m talking about things like cups, dishes, clothing piles, and suitcases. These things draw attention away from the story you are trying to tell with the photo. They need to be put away, or they need to be somewhere out of view of the camera.
Tip #1. Only Shoot From The Waist Up
Most messes happen on the ground, so just shoot from the chest up. If you have a zoom lens, zoom in enough to include your subject’s torso and head. You’ll still have to pay attention to messes in the background, but you can always use a wall as a backdrop if nothing else works.
I find this strategy extremely helpful during wedding photo shoots. Before the actual event, you want to take photos of people getting ready. This is a double-edged sword because changing rooms tend to get very messy. There’s stuff everywhere as people scramble to prepare for the big day. So I just shoot it all from the waist up, and the results are still good looking.
Tip #2. Photograph The Little Things
I often take closeups of the little things I find when I’m doing shoots. If someone is wearing an interesting hairpiece, get a closeup of it. At birthday parties, I like to photograph parts of the cake, party hats, presents, and the games. No, these aren’t your bread and butter shots, but people will still want to remember them throughout the years.
When you do this, be sure to set your aperture to a fairly wide value like F2.8 or F4. Because you’re dealing with a messy situation, you will want to blur out the background as much as possible. At F4, most of the background is blurry while your main subject remains in focus. It’s handy aperture setting when there’s too much going on in a scene.
Tip #3. Step Outside For A Bit
Don’t tell anyone why you’re doing it (you want to be a nice guest), but when all else fails, you can always step outside to get some less distracting photos. I inevitably find myself doing this even when I’m not dealing with messy spaces. The insides of houses are almost always distracting in one way or another. I find that taking a few photos outside helps me plan the rest of the shoot that will take place inside.
Sometimes getting closer is all you need to do to get a much cleaner shot. It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting in a messy dorm room, taking photos at a wedding, or snapping the great outdoors. When it really comes down to it, the world is one giant mess. It’s only clean if you choose to focus on a small part of it. Pick what’s clean and leave out the rest.
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