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8 Affordable White Backdrop Options

By Tanya Goodall Smith on August 16th 2016

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Less is More. A phrase coined by poet Robert Browning but most often attributed to architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as a precept for Minimalist design, is a concept I often utilize in photography, and t2here’s nothing more minimal than a white backdrop. Here are 8 white backdrop options that are affordable and accessible.

1. Cyc Wall (rent)

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A Cyc Wall (short for Cyclorama) is a seamless white wall used commonly in fashion and product photography (see some amazing examples of a cyc wall in use in the Breed Fashion Photography Workshop.) While not affordable to create (learn how to make one in the below video) you can usually rent a studio with a cyc for an affordable fee. I rented a studio in Spokane for awhile that had a cyc wall and I loved it. It was the quickest, easiest way I’ve ever been able to achieve bright white backgrounds without having to do any work in post production.

The studio I rented had built in strobes in the ceiling to light the cyc wall and then strobes on stands with casters that were easy to move around to light the subject. If money was no object and I worked primarily in-studio I would definitely have one. But, alas, I work mostly on-location and not rolling in dough (yet) so I generally use one of the more portable options listed below.

2. Back-lit Sheer Fabric

Using a sheer curtain on a backdrop stand (or even hanging in a large doorway) with one strobe behind is a great way to get a nice bright white backdrop. In this setup, I used one Canon Speedlite behind the curtain. I pointed the light toward the window so it would bounce back into the curtain, converting the one small light into a nice big, even light source.

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It’s not pictured, but I used a giant sheet of white foam insulation as a reflector in front of my subject, which bounced the light from behind back on to her face. See V flats below for an example of the styrofoam sheets I’m using. You could also use foam core board.

3. White Fleece

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For the above session, I needed a white backdrop that wouldn’t take up much space and wouldn’t wrinkle, since I was traveling out of town and didn’t have a lot of extra luggage space. I booked the session last minute so didn’t have time to order a collapsable backdrop and decided to go with an inexpensive piece of white fleece from the fabric store. I had to do some retouching to it in photoshop, but it wasn’t too bad. It worked great for a budget option.

4. V-flats

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V-flats are large pieces of foam board (or gator board), often taped together, or simply placed in a V shape, and are used in various ways for photography and video production to add fill or flag. Finding large sheets of foam-core board in Spokane is virtually impossible, as the nearest legitimate camera store is located in Seattle, a 5.5 hour drive away. Thankfully, I’ve known about using sheets of styrofoam insulation from the hardware store for awhile now (thanks to Sue Bryce) but had never tried it until recently.

The styrofoam boards work amazingly well and I love them, but they were very difficult to transport from the hardware store. They’re also quite cumbersome to haul up the stairs at my office to the conference room where I use them on occasion. Unless you have a giant pick-up truck and a studio space where you can permanently use these, I’d probably recommend you go with a different option. That being said, I like the way they look and they make really great full body reflectors.

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I painted one side of my V-flats grey and left the other side white so I can have a grey background (shown above) or a white one if I flip them to the other side. A third white board makes a great reflector. Watch the below video to learn more about making V-flats from Sue Bryce herself.

5. Seamless Paper

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Seamless paper is the go-to white backdrop for many photographers. It’s inexpensive, compact and easy to use, and a white backdrop generally can be made to look grey and even to black it lit correctly. For our team photos at WorkStory we set up a simple roll of paper and used one naked strobe to light the paper and another in a large umbrella to light our faces. Easy peasy.

white-seamless-paper-backdrop

6. White Wall

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If you don’t have a Backdrop Stand, paper, fabric or v-flats, you can always use an existing white wall in a home or office or even on the exterior of a building. I do this all the time and it works great. The above was taken in my living room before I painted the walls a nice designer seaside blue (dang, that all white room came in handy back in the day.)

7. Soft Box

I’ve never actually tried this method myself, but it’s similar to the back-lit curtain concept. Using a large softbox modifier on a strobe can make a great all-white backdrop for a headshot. You just need another light source or reflectors on the front to light the face.

Learn more about using the soft box method by reading this article: USING A SOFTBOX TO CREATE AN ALL WHITE BACKDROP FOR HEADSHOTS | GAVIN HOEY

8. Foam Core Board

For smaller applications, like product photography, using 30×40 white foam core board from your local craft store is one of the most economical ways you can go. I actually buy it in bulk on Amazon and use it whenever I do any table top photography. As long as you have 3 to 4 sheets you can build yourself a little backdrop box.

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So, which white backdrop method do you prefer or are you going to try out next? I can’t say I have a favorite. I like having all these tricks available for whichever situation I happen to be dealing with. How about you?

Photographs are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artists.

 

Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at workstoryphotography.com.

12 Comments

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  1. mohammad sj

    thanks for this article. i shared it in linkedin دانلود

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  2. Andy & Amii Kauth

    We have previously used the option of borrow a colleague’s set up. Ha! Just upgraded our borrow a colleague’s set up to seamless (Savage) + an Impact background support system. :)

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  3. Steven Pellegrino

    Here’s a 9th option – a window. This is an easy technique if you’re only working with one speedlight on your model. During the day if you put your model in front of a window, spot meter for the model. It doesn’t matter what you can see through the window, you will blow out the window and it will be white.

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  4. Neil Adams

    Thank you, Tanya. You provide some really great tips and suggestions. There is one more item that you can through into the mix foldable backdrops: https://www.amazon.com/StudioPRO-Double-Backdrop-Photography-Background/dp/B00FG5DOV6/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1471542974&sr=8-5&keywords=flexible+photography+backgrounds

    You can get them in black or white or different colors.

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  5. Kelvin Strepen

    Thank you, Tanya. These are very useful to us as we are photographer.

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  6. Caleb Keiter

    I can add a 9th – a 2’x’3 piece of white poster board. It may be the cheapest option on the list. http://www.calebkeiter.com/5-professional-headshot-backgrounds-for-any-headshot/

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  7. Thadd Grant

    I recently acquired a collapsible backdrop that mounts on a light stand. It’s white on one side and black on the other. I find it easier to mount than a normal fabric or paper backdrop,. It’s affordable and transports easily. One hook and it’s mounted. It’s 5X6 feet and I use it horizontally for headshots or vertically for body shots. I can alter the background’s appearance dependent on how I place my lights, and if I want a deep black presentation, I have that option by just flipping it around.. Just sayin’-

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  8. Paul Wynn

    Thanks for the interesting post. I like the sheer curtain setup that’s one I need to try.

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