When I want new portraits of my kids, I never head to the photography studio. Instead, I head to the kitchen or front room, where I get great window light. I’m willing to spend a lot more time than most photographers would with my kids to get just the photo I want, and I often photograph them right in front of a blank wall for an easy background. This can get old pretty quickly, though, so I’ve collected 20 different options for easy DIY backdrops you can use in your home.
Great photography doesn’t always involve buying the most expensive camera on the market. Certainly, great cameras yield very good results. But even the best camera can’t perform to its best level without great lighting in the scene. Quite often, that great lighting will come from the sun with outdoor photos. However, when you have to shoot indoors, you need to provide your own lighting. Although you can produce this lighting with an on-camera flash unit, photography lighting sets provide the best quality of light. You also can make significant adjustments to the intensity and direction of light when using a set, giving you maximum control of the photo quality.
For a dramatic or edgy appearance, go with low-key lighting. Low-key lighting also focuses attention onto your subject by surrounding them in shadows instead of light. To do this, you want to ensure that your solid black backdrop is at least 3 stops darker than the light on your subject. With low-key lighting, you also need to ensure that none of the light from your subject is hitting your backdrop. Grids and flag are very helpful for this.
Again, if you are starting out or having trouble I would recommend getting the light a little further back (somewhere between 4 to 8 feet if using a similar sized light source). You will also notice that the right side of my backdrop is actually not 100 percent white, it fades to a light gray shade. I could increase my fill or correct this in post-processing, but the slight shift is intentional in this image.
Another buyer mentions that it’s easy to adjust the portable backdrop stand and that it’s perfect for light-weight backdrops. He highly recommends it as one of the best background stands available. However, a couple of users have noted that the product is flimsy and breaks because the plastic is of poor quality. Some also complain that they received a damaged unit.
Among a raft of new products, Denny’s Fair Tale Trail puts your subject in a whimsical (dare we say Hobbit-esque) setting. The backdrop is available in your choice of three materials: Freedom Cloth, which is a wrinkle-free polyster that’s washable and dryer safe; Twist Flex, which uses the Freedom Cloth material but mounts it to a wire frame that can be folded down tight if you envision travelling a lot with the backdrop. Lastly, it’s available in canvas, which is a more delicate backdrop that ships with a wood mounting and Velcro straps. Sizes vary with Freedom Cloth, giving you the widest selection of size options.
In summary, the key factors to getting the backdrop and subject lit in a similar exposure zone is distance; The distance of the subject to the background and the distance of the light source to the subject. Decrease the distance of the subject to background and increase the distance of the main light to the subject to make this easier. The key factor for getting a soft and directional quality to the light is also distance, but it's the opposite. By getting the light closer to the subject, we can create a softer light with more directional qualities. Also remember that these qualities of the light are relative to the size of the light source. If you are using a smaller light source, you will need to get it in closer to hold those transitional values. If you are using a larger light source, you may be able to get your light further back and still hold those soft-light qualities. Also, if the examples and basic principles here make sense to you, you have kind of just learned the inverse square law!
In the shot above I used a two light setup. The main light, camera left, is a Profoto D1 1,000Ws head inside of a 50 inch Westcott Apollo Softbox. While the idea of mixing what is considered to be a high-end strobe with a budget softbox my not sit right with some, I find the indirect lighting source from a Westcott or Photek to give a really nice and even light. The 60 inch Photek Softlighter, which I also enjoy using, may only cost $95 but gives a really nice, soft, and even light. If these lower cost indirect sources are good enough for the likes of Mario Testino and Annie Leibovitz, then they are good enough for me. Clay Cook did an great article on these lighting sources, "Lighting Like Leibovitz," that you can find here.
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