The art of photographing a great portrait comes down to many factors. As well as camera skills and the use of effective lighting, a portrait photographer will often use props to achieve that polished, professional result. The range of props used is almost endless, but some tried-and-tested techniques help turn average snaps into stunning works of art.
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There are two main types of backdrop -- mood and scenic. A mood backdrop could be almost anything but is usually a colour, pattern or an abstract representation such as the suggestion of waterfall. Backdrops are often made of muslin, canvas or cloth, such as a draped curtain. Often plain white backgrounds are used, with coloured light and patterns projected onto them. A scenic background is a large photographic image used to give the impression that the subject is standing in front of a location -- such as the New York skyline or the Grand Canyon. Computer technology is often used with a green screen to insert these backgrounds.
Posing props are objects such as chairs, stools, desks, beds and boxes. It is common to have a subject sit down when taking a portrait since it relaxes him and allows for a more composed shot. Posing props are also used to convey a subject's personality and theme. A bride will often be placed in an archway or on a bed of silk pillows, while a member of the Hells Angels will most likely want to be seen sitting astride a Harley-Davidson. Seasonal posing props are also used during the holidays for a family Christmas card or a special Halloween memory.
Children's props serve two functions -- they enhance the scene by showing the child interacting, but they can also be an important tool of distraction. When photographing very small children it is common for the photographer to hold something like a puppet or teddy bear. This can be used to attract the baby's attention while also keeping her amused. Costumes are also often used, such as fairy wings for girls or superhero outfits for boys.
Photographers often use their creativity to come up with original ways of making a photo special and exciting. A bucket of water thrown over the subject, hundreds of bouncy balls being released from above, a pillow fight among children, surrounding the subject with homemade cakes, a baby put in a giant flower. There really is no limit to the possibilities when it comes to using props to enhance portrait photography.
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