Eliminating the Middle Ground

Today’s blog is about a simple, yet effective way to get a big impact out of your portrait shoots. Every photographer wants to have images where the subject of our shots seems to be larger than life and jump off the page (or in most cases these days with photography, the computer screen :).

So today we are talking about “eliminating the middle ground” as my friend Mike Larson dubbed it. What does it mean to “eliminate the middle ground?” It is simply to take your subject, either a person or a detail shot, and place them in an area where there is space between them, the foreground and the background. When we do this, our subject immediately pops out of the image much better because they are the only thing in sharp focus.

Example image from our recent engagement shoot with the amazing Sarah & Ryan!

Notice how they seem to jump off the screen and have some much dimension, even though the lighting is not very contrasty at all.

Now, if you want to ramp up the effect, you can do this by implementing a few other techniques at the same time. If you don’t have your subject near something like a wall that you can use to lead into your shot (which would increase the effect) then you can get low to the ground like in the shot above to bring more of the foreground into the frame. This helps blur everything in the shot except our subject which makes them that much more 3D looking. If you were to shoot from high above, then more of the ground around them would appear to be in focus and it would lessen the effect.

Another thing you can do to increase the effect is to shoot at a very shallow depth of field. In the case of the image above, this was shot at f 1.2 which makes the focus plane very shallow. The further away you are from the subject, the more that appears to be in focus, so shooting really shallow at this distance helps increase the effect and counteract the extra depth that you get from shooting further away.

The last thing you can do is to use a long lens. The longer the lens, the less depth of field and more blurred out the background and foreground will be. This image was shot at 85mm which is a great portrait length. Anything longer than 50mm also compresses the image and makes it look more intimate and seem as though you are peering in at a moment.

Check out some other images with the same type of techniques used.

Keeping anything distracting out of the shot also keeps the attention on the subject like in the image above.

In this above image the background is pretty close to the subject, but the shallow f stop (1.4) along with being in close, throws the background way out of focus and gives the effect nicely. It also helps to smooth the skin as most of it is out of focus as well!

In this shot, the groom was pretty close to the trees in the background, and pretty far away from me, but by framing the bride and her father (who were very close to me) around the groom, it gives a similar effect and helps pop the groom out of the background.

Now the real trick comes when you are shooting with high-powered strobes which force you to sometimes shoot at a much larger depth of field. The way you compose the shot, and what you put in it, now becomes very critical. One thing you can do is eliminate everything except the sky which pops the subject out.

You can also get very extreme with the foreground by placing the camera directly on the ground like in the above shot. Even though this image was shot at f11, it still has the look of shallow depth in the foreground, while the subjects and background have tons of depth. That is when it starts looking fake and like you inserted a background, even though this image is straight out of the camera with zero Photoshop.

You can also use light to make your subject pop out of the frame. In this case, two light sources coming at the subject give him lots of nice contrast which make him appear more 3D. Then, using the low to the ground technique along with the angled lines of the rail car, you get lots of depth and dimension in a simple image.

Have a photo question that you want answered in our Tuesday Tips and Tricks? Shoot us an email at tips@grayphotograph.com and we just may do a blog on it! Now get out there and shoot!!

  • http://www.shutterstops.com Ryan Szepan

    Great commentary as always, keep up the great work you two!

  • http://www.portrait-photographer-milwaukee.com laetitia

    thanks ;-) I really like the last picture !

  • http://www.photographybyshawnee.com shawnee pedraza

    ok, my goal is to nail 1.2 with 2 subjects! AMAZING

  • http://www.portrait-photographer-milwaukee.com laetitia

    Very great last picture !

  • Carlos Bruno

    I don’t know if the people that reads this Blog realize HOW AMAZING Zach is like a given professional (besides person … both actually … what blessed couple) passing all those TIPS & TRICKS for free.
    We can’t imagine how many hours (and his hour now worth well) he study / test / suffer with all those informations to be learned and just comes here and explain like no other. Ok ok … the fact you need to be “social” nowadays is important but, if you don’t know all these things (and this is NOT a basic info guys!), you probably able just to work for Kinko’s passports photog.
    Man, oh man, oh man … God bless your weeks because “our” Tuesdays, you already took care.

  • http://www.stephanieortega.com/blog Stephanie Ortega

    Ok… honestly this photo of Zack saying “comments please” with that face made me really want to comment… I’m a sucker. But really I love this post! Thanks for the tips!

  • http://www.nayeemvohra.com Nayeem

    Excellent post. Thank you so much ! You guys are awesome!

  • http://www.hillcitybride.com Jennifer Prince

    Wow. What GREAT photographers you are sharing secrets with others. That speaks volumes about you … you are confident in your work and want others to have the joy that you do. Thank you so much for sharing! I think that you are very talented photographers, and I wish you the best with your business!! :)

  • http://casamoses.blogspot.com Sarah Moses

    I love love love this post! I can’t wait to put it to good use the next time I’m out taking pictures! Please keep sharing!

  • http://www.kayshaweiner.com/blog Kaysha Weiner

    You guys are the best!! I always look forward to your suggestions and tips! I’d love to know what you think new photographers can do to best promote their work and gain exposure?

    • http://www.grayphotograph.com Jody Gray

      @kaysha – Good question! That’s a great Tuesday Tips & Tricks that we’ll totally do. But for now, to get experience – advertise on craigslist and for exposure go to any and all networking meetings and offer to shoot their work for free and get them images :)

  • http://blog.lavidacreations.com Betsy La Vida

    Fo’ serious… you guys are the best!! Great post, good content, and of course, beautifully lit photos. We miss you!!!