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. There’s nothing more minimal than a white background. The white backdrop is versatile and works well for all types of photoshoots, from professional headshots to newborn photography. To get you started, here are 8 white backdrop options that are affordable and accessible.
1. Cyc Wall (Rent a Studio)
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 for our background. 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.
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
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.
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 for a white background 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.
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 this video to learn more about making V-flats from Sue Bryce herself.
5. Seamless Paper
Seamless paper is the go-to white backdrop for many photographers. It’s inexpensive, compact and easy to use, and a white background 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.
6. Basic White Wall
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. Create a White Backdrop/Background with Your 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 as White Backdrop
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.
So, which white backdrop method do you prefer when going for the white background look? 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?
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