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Black Walnut GreenmanAny good portrait photographer knows that the background can enhance or detract from the subject, and plans accordingly. It is a bit more difficult for a nature spirit photographer, for we are photographing in a natural setting with other trees, bushes, and buildings juxtaposing with our subject.

So the nature spirit portrait photographer doesn’t have the luxury of the studio portrait photographer, who can specify lighting and color. Sometimes the nature spirit can be isolated by opening up the aperture very wide, to an f 4.5 to f 8, so that the background drops away. But sometimes we don’t even have that luxury.

That’s where I find working in Photoshop is such a benefit. When out photographing trees and rocks, I will also do some texture background shots – of foliage of that season, and of that area. Then back at the computer I can work with the Photoshop tools such Gaussian blur and contrast/saturation/exposure to create a background that is soft, neutral and in keeping with the main image. If it is a really excellent image, such as this Greenman, I will invest the time in creating a mask and cleanly cutting around the image, then dropping that against the neutral background. This process can really help you bring forward the personality of your subject.

Here are three options I worked with for this Greenman. At the top is my final selection – a darkened and blurred leaf background. Below are, first, the original untouched image; and one in which I tried using the colorful leaves of that fall day. At the bottom is a photo taken of the Greenman by Ben Kulla, one of the youth in our Blue Papaya group. He was part of a group led by Tracy Paddy, our President, that was looking for nature spirit images. He got a good photograph of the Greenman, so you see the Greenman’s image is in the tree – how he is presented makes a big difference.

The original untouched photo

The image lightened and against autumn leaves

photo by Ben Kulla

Which version do you like best?

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