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Backdrop for headshot photography lighting

Discussion in 'Lighting Forum' started by shanguli, Jun 14, 2015.

  1. shanguli

    shanguli Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 16, 2014
    Was looking for something that I can use as an effective backdrop, that's light/portable for headshot photography which I'll be doing on location (offices, etc). Here is the link to what I've come across so fa, which basicallly is a 5x7(feet) 2 In 1 Collapsible Backdrop: http://bit.ly/1L8zflZ

    I have the 5 in 1 collapsible reflectors and when I open it I can see that all the different sides/surfaces (gold, silver, white and black sides) have those random wrinkle lines which are created as result of folding down the collapsible reflector into a disc. So I can not use the black or white sides of my 5 in 1 reflector, as a quick backdrop when I need to improvise quickly on location.

    1-Knowing that this product (http://bit.ly/1L8zflZ) is also collapsible, I'd like to know if it has all the wrinkle lines all over its surface or not? Reason why I ask is because, I don't want to have wrinkles on something I'd want to use as backdrop.
    2-Has anyone used these collapsible bakcdrops at all for headshot photography? What has your experience been like with them?
    3- Any other suggestion for great backdrops, other paper role that's not mobile friendly?

    View attachment 424829
  2. Bif

    Bif Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 28, 2012
    San Angelo TX
    Bruce Foreman
    Black and white backgrounds are way too "stark" for quality portraiture. The results on black can be very dramatic but you will wind up with a look that both you and clients will rapidly tire of.

    I suggest something along this line:


    Research the cloth and mounting options. I've used Denny's products for years.

    Something like this is best positioned about 6 feet or a bit more behind the subject so you can both keep it's detail out of focus, and light it as little or as much as you want for effect. I chose to mostly have it go a bit dark, I used a small separate background light to cause a bit of a "halo" effect behind the head and shoulders.

    How you light it will make a big difference in flexibility of "look". By not lighting it at all (with enough subject to background distance) while using fairly close and strong main and key on the subject, I could make it go almost black for the few instances I needed something like that. Or I could "pour" enough light on to make it go very light and "air-y".

    The last one I had was mounted on a wood bar with a hole drilled exactly at the midpoint so I could hang it from a single sturdy light stand. I used it for senior portraits on location. Looks like some of these come with a sewn in "rod pocket", making it easy to hang with one of those background stand systems like this:


    I've used one like this in the past and found it very handy. Now some even come with a bag for easy pack and transport. This is what I'd go with if I needed something now.
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2015
  3. SpecFoto

    SpecFoto Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Aug 28, 2012
    So Cal
    Lastolite makes a 5' by 6' collapsable cloth background that has different patterns on each side. I have had 2 for quite a few years and really like them. They fold down to about 1/3 the size for easy transport. The newer ones now use a crease resistant fabric, but creasing on mine has really never been a big issue, I just set them up in advance and spray them with a small bottle of water. I use a small 7' light stand with a clip to hold them upright.

    Here is a link to them at B&H.

  4. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Legend Subscribing Member

    Jan 3, 2014
    A basket for the head to fall into.
  5. Paul80

    Paul80 Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 6, 2014
    It was often said that grey was a better than black or white because if you wanted it black you used less light and if you wanted it white you used more light, it was also the better option if you wanted to colour it with gel's on the background light.

    Another option might be to us a Chroma key green background and drop a digital background in at the processing stage. You can get thousands of high resolution digital backgrounds for under a tenner on the internet
  6. gryphon1911

    gryphon1911 Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Mar 13, 2014
    Central Ohio, USA
    grey works well for lighting the background with a gelled strobe too!
  7. Bif

    Bif Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 28, 2012
    San Angelo TX
    Bruce Foreman
    Not necessarily "better", perhaps a bit easier though. Problem with black, white, or grey backgrounds is in them being too "sterile" or neutral unless colored with gels on the background light. Using color gels on the background light with a black background results in the most vivid colors you can imagine...If done right. Doing the same on white has a more diluted look, grey, more in the middle.

    The reasons I used that technique on "Old Masters" earthtone canvas were: 1) Everything I could do on black with gels I could do just as well on the canvas plus the pattern look of the swirls on canvas added a feel of dimension clients loved. 2) For a more "conventional" in studio look, not using colored gels gave me a wide range of looks depending on how I lit the background.

    A few examples:
    OK, here's four I already had scanned for a presentation I gave our photo club a few years ago. All four were done with the very same canvas background, a 12 foot wide canvas earthtone. Granted, it's conveniently large, in a fair size cameraroom, and I had a set of Photogenic Studiomaster II lights. But I've done the same thing on location with a 6 foot wide similar canvas and a simpler set of lights.

    This first one I used a fairly high power level on the background light and caused the medium tones of the canvas to go a bit light and air-y.

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Here I lit the center of the canvas which had lighter tones anyway with a fairly low power setting. Had I not lit it at all it would have gone fairly close to black.

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    An amber gel over the background light and a fairly high power level gave this result

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    And for this "character study" portrait a fairly low power level and careful positioning of the background light gave this result.

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    On location I didn't always have the luxury of variable power strobes so I often had to use a single output level strobe head or even sometimes a Vivitar 283 strobe. I had to previsualize what the beam was going to do or shoot a Polaroid test. The strength of the beam could be varied by moving the background light closer to the background or further back some. The Vivitar 283 also had a variable power module.

    Hope this helps.

    Bruce Foreman

    Bif, Yesterday at 11:12 PM Report
  8. Wisertime

    Wisertime Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 6, 2013
    Years ago when I had just began digital photography, I went to a fabric store and found some cool fabrics to use as backdrops and they were very cheap to boot...and better selection than the expensive stuff online geared to photographers. I also got a nice black "curtain" from goodwill for low key portraits...and built a stand from PVC piping at home depot. Another option is doing shots in a large room or hallway and keep your subject at least 6' from a background wall (solid color ideally) and it will be out of focus if you are using a portrait focal length. I've done this for passport and business photos in a pinch, but if you are showing up on location in offices you may want something more consistent and reliable as a backdrop. You can alter color in post too.

    Using gels to light the background is cool too.

    fabric background..actually more teal/turquoise, but used a cold tone filter in LR. Not great, but gives you some idea...should have set her further away from background.
    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Shot on top of open stairwell with gel lighting back white wall....umbrella in front...used a dark blue gel, but changed in LR to this. I may have added some vignetting on these too. Probably so, as I was into that when I first got LR.

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Same location without a gel....about 8' from back wall.

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    I did some recent ones for my GF, but don't have them online...same idea...set up 6' from a plain door, which was out of focus and non distracting. But gives you some idea what you can do without a "real background". Less stuff to carry too.
  9. eteless

    eteless Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 20, 2014
    One thing I've seen seen is having half a dozen backdrops (cities, countryside, patterns, whatever) printed onto blankets and then using them over a frame;
    Something like that, there's lots of printers who do it (just an example).

    Surprisingly printing onto a blanket is pretty cheap these days, a backdrop of the same dimensions can be pretty pricey because of it's specialized nature.
  10. TomServo

    TomServo Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    Apr 22, 2014
    Nashville, TN
    Brandon Jackson
    I have used white collapsible units before for headshot work on location on more than one occasion. My westcott square-ish opaque white is thick and always looks smooth. Really though using white allows one to make them run a stop or two brighter than the subject and washes out any wrinkles if there are any. I've also used white translucent and backlight it which also makes wrinkles hard to see if they are present. If you want a black background moving it far enough from your subject to make sure it stays black should again keep wrinkles from appearing.
    I realize a lot of others here have mentioned using painted backdrops and geling gray paper and there's certainly nothing wrong with that but if you are shooting headshots specifically for actors, models, etc than solid white can work just fine. Also the original post showed black and white options.
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