Shooting portraits on location in Korea can be a difficult task at times. Heavily populated areas with numerous overhead wires in chaotic arrangements and narrow roads combined with typically hazy skies in most urban areas can make things complicated.
Now I know there are many gorgeous locations in Korea and for some shooters the locations I described above offer the perfect background to compliment their style. Unfortunately, I find these backgrounds overly distracting and prefer a cleaner backdrop to compliment the style of portrait work I do, which has forced me to do some creative location shooting, which includes how I approach a location, my lens selection and choice of angle(s).
When shooting at a tough location I often find myself reaching for my 70-200mm 2.8, although any long telephoto would do. The long telephoto offers a few distinct advantages over the standard 24-70 (or 18-50mm kit lens used on most crop sensors DSLRs). Stepping back from the subject and zooming in as much as possible can significant narrow the field of view. By doing this and by being aware of the background it becomes far easier to place distractions outside the frame. This will work will all cameras, SLR or otherwise, as long as you are physically zooming and not using the digital zoom feature, common on many point and shoots. In fact if you post process your work turn off the digital zoom, as it is essentially just cropping your photos in camera, reducing both image size and quality.
Another feature I look for in tough locations is a spot of great light. For example in the location below, which is a unkempt alleyway behind my flat, I noticed how the sun was illuminating the grass from the back left and also how the building which was also a fairly neutral colour (perhaps a little bit too red), was reflecting light back into the alley from the right.
I had my daughter sit in the grass, distracting her with a flower, and had her face towards the building with the sun at her back. Stepping back and zooming in to nearly 200mm with my aperture at 2.8 I got the following shot.
It’s important when shooting using this method that you expose for the skin. I usually shoot in manual but you could also get this shot in aperture priority while spot metering off a check or other area of skin. Here’s another shots from the same location.