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Tips & Tricks

Create Your Own Ten Backdrop, Portable Studio – Sundance Film Festival Style

By Chris Nachtwey on February 25th 2014

The Sundance Film Festival is one of the largest independent film festivals held in the United States. Celebrities and socialites flock to Park City, Utah every January to mingle, view the newest offerings from independent film makers, and now, step into Jay L. Clendenin’s portable studio for a quick portrait or two.

[REWIND: Canon DSLR’s & Lenses Popular Choice By Sundance Filmakers]

Los Angeles Times staff photographer, Jay L. Clendenin, is used to focusing on celebrity portraiture in the bright lights of Hollywood, but Sundance provided a new challenge. This January, at the famed film festival, Jay took 281 portraits in a portable studio set up in a small small space, with different backgrounds, with only about 4-9 minutes per subject. He also simultaneously created Fuji Instax prints.


Photos by: Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles Times

The Lighting

Limited by space, Jay used a simple light set up, two softboxes and two Dynalite strobes with 1000w packs. For group shots, he used both strobes. For single portraits, he used a white bounce card placed about chest level to his subject with a single small softbox positioned at a 45-degree angle just above his subject’s forehead. I personally think his single light setup is important for every photographer to learn and practice. It’s simple, affordable, and can be used in many different situations.

[REWIND: [Framed] Joel Grimes on Overhead Beauty Lighting]


The Backdrops

Jay used different backdrops to change the look of his portraits. For group portraits, a 9 by 12 painted canvas was used. For individual portraits, he created his own custom backdrops, using sheets of 1/4inch foam core and different patterned fabric. He wrapped the fabric around a sheet of foam core securing it using gaffers tape and binder clips; creating ten custom backdrops.


The Gear

Canon 5D Mark III

Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II

Canon 85mm f/1.2

Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8

Jay’s method is relatively inexpensive and a simple way to create backdrops for a photo booth to use during weddings, parties, or portraits in the studio.

You can see more of Jay’s portraits and a very cool time-lapse video from his Sundance studio on the LA Times website

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Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. tanya

    How does he hold the bounce card in place?

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  2. Kevin

    Wow, what a great idea!

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