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Tips & Tricks

Using a Softbox to Create an All White Backdrop for Headshots | Gavin Hoey

By Chris Nachtwey on October 14th 2014

Shooting against a white background is usually a safe bet for headshots. It’s clean, simple, and makes cutting out your subject and placing them over another background in Photoshop fairly simple. The downside, of course, is actually have to set up a white seamless backdrop. Typically, setting up seamless paper on background stands takes up a lot of space and honestly, can take a lot of time and effort that you might not have when in the field. So, what’s one to do if they need to shoot in front of a white background, but don’t have the space or time? Bust out a large softbox!

[REWIND: USING GRIDS TO CREATE DRAMATIC PORTRAIT LIGHTING WITH GAVIN HOEY]

In the Adorama sponsored video below, Gavin Hoey shows you how to use a softbox  create a clean white backdrop for headshots while in a small space.

Gear

Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 24-105mm f/4 L
Flashpoint StreakLight 360 Ws
Flashpoint RoveLight 600 Ws Monolight

Technique

I have to say I’m impressed with how easy this technique is, and personally, never even thought of doing this before. Gavin keeps it simple with a very large square softbox behind his subject, metered one stop above his main light to create an all white background. From there, it’s just simple lighting with a main light in a octabox, camera right, about 45 degrees to the subject and metered for f/11, giving Gavin the depth of field that he wanted. This creates a simple white background, and great lighting for his subject.

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Now, you might think he did some crazy Photoshop magic to achieve the final image, but honestly he didn’t. To achieve an all white background using a RAW file, he increased his white levels, making sure the background was indeed pure white. Next, he cropped the image tightly and finally, he converted the image to black and white, making contrast adjustments to suit his taste. Simple and beautiful!

Final Image

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Thoughts

I love simple and easy to understand techniques like this. It is not a technique I would say you should use all the time (I still prefer a real seamless background). If you were in a pinch though, Gavin shows us you can create a very nice, clean image using a softbox as your background. Best part is that the amount of gear you need is minimal, and there is a good chance you already have the soft boxes and light modifiers needed to create an image like this.

 Via: Adorma’s Youtube Page

Images captured via screen grab

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

11 Comments

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  1. John Cavan

    Works well for side lighting highly reflective surfaces as well. A common way to light glass is to use spill on the edges by reflecting off of white reflectors along the sides with the light behind a gobo that is the subject backdrop. You can do the same with soft box setups for the sides which, after all, is the basic point of things like the Lastolite cube for product photography.

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  2. Mircea Blanaru

    I like these tips a lot! Great achievements with small money!!! A desirable point for me and for others not rich photographers….

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  3. Zeb Yap-Chung

    Amazing technique..would love to try myself

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  4. robert raymer

    I have done this a number of times with a 30×60 soft box when photographing my children. Other than a few wrinkles that may show up in the diffusion fabric and that are easy to take out in photoshop, the technique works great, especially when space is tight.

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    • Teri Bay

      A garment steamer works great for taking the wrinkles out of the diffusion fabric.

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  5. Clare Havill

    Great tip. However if you don’t own a softbox or don’t have one that’s large enough, you can also just use a white wall and fire a speed light at it to blow out the background.

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