Here’s How to Shoot Portraits With a Black Background
- Date: May 16, 2022
- Topic: Photography
- By: Peerspace
Want to learn how to shoot portraits with a black background? Then you’ve come to the right place! But if you think black background portraits are too complex or artsy, think again. We’ll discuss all the ins and outs of how to shoot portraits with a black background ahead. As well as acquiring a new photography technique today, you can also book the perfect location for your next portrait shoot. As the largest online marketplace for hourly venue rentals, including many, many professional photography studios, we at Peerspace respect photographers and appreciate their artistry.
Every day, countless professional photographers and their teams rely on Peerspace venues to bring their creativity to life. Along with sharing how to shoot portraits with a black background, we’ll also share how using the Peerspace platform can help you, too. In fact, it is the easiest way to find a venue to practice the new skills you’re about to learn as a photographer. Let’s get started!
Why learn how to shoot portraits with a black background?
So how crucial is it to learn how to shoot portraits with a black background? Learning how to shoot portraits with a black background is something you should master as a studio portrait photographer.
Traditionally, many of your shoots may use white backgrounds or even colored backdrops. But knowing how to create a black background in any location is a useful skill to add to your repertoire. It can add drama to a portrait, as well as highlight the subject in a complementary fashion.
Going the DIY route? Then you need to see how to set up a photography studio here!
Setting up your black background portrait shoots
First things first, you need the perfect setting to shoot portraits with a black background. And as we mentioned, this is another thing Peerspace knows all about as the largest online marketplace for hourly rental venues. And yes, this includes thousands of professional photography studios. But also, you can also rent one-of-a-kind photogenic spaces that may just inspire a whole series of images with black backgrounds on our site!
Most Peerspace studios include professional equipment included with the price or as special add-ons if you need them. You can easily find a stylish and private studio near you that includes lighting equipment, backdrops, and furnishings, for example. But if you find yourself in need of anything else, contact the Concierge service and they can source and deliver whatever else you need to your venue. All the better not to disrupt the creative process, right?!
After you book the perfect setting, you just need to master a few of the tips ahead to create the best portrait. Once you know how it works, you’ll be able to add more variety to your portraits, as well as still life and product photography. Mostly, creating a black background that works well for your project is all about knowing how to manipulate light.
Know your dynamic range
When it comes to shooting portraits on black backgrounds, it’s vital to first understand how cameras differ from the human eye. Typically, cameras have a lower dynamic range than our eyes do. That means there are things at either end of the range that we can see that cameras can’t. We’re much better at seeing things that are either very dark or very bright. But these exact images will appear either washed out or pitch-black on camera.
And, you can use this difference to your advantage when shooting portraits. If you make sure that the background is much darker than the subject, then you can make nearly anything look black.
For example, think of a person standing in a doorway. If you’re indoors and looking past them, you might be able to see both the person and the world outside. But on camera, if the person is well-lit, then the sky behind them might be washed out. It’s almost as if you’ve hung a white backdrop behind them!
The same thing works in reverse. If you’re outside looking in, you might be able to see a little ways behind them in the hall. But on camera, the hallway will appear dark — maybe even pitch-black. But with a little cropping and editing, no one will know you didn’t shoot it in a studio.
Know what looks amazing with a black background? Boudoir shoots! Discover our 12 class boudoir photoshoot ideas to get started.
The Inverse Square Law
The important thing is to light for the camera, not for the eye. That can take a little getting used to. You should also understand the Inverse Square Law before you start creating black backdrop photography. Without getting too technical, the law states the amount of light that reaches a subject is “inversely proportional to the square of the distance” from the light source.
This means that light drops off more rapidly than you might think as you move away from your studio lights. If your subject is two feet away from your light source, and your backdrop is two feet beyond that, how much light will reach the backdrop in relation to the subject?
You might think half because the distance is double. But the Inverse Square Law demonstrates that only a quarter as much light will reach the backdrop. Let’s say you move your backdrop eight feet from the light source. In that case, only 1/16th as much light will reach it compared to your subject.
Do you see where this is going? The further your backdrop is from your subject, the less light reaches it, and the darker the backdrop will appear. To make a backdrop look jet-black, you simply need to ensure it isn’t as well-lit as your subject.
Setting up the image
To get the most convincing image, you’ll want to use as dark a backdrop as possible. Ideally, a black studio curtain or piece of fabric will do the trick. Make sure to choose one that isn’t shiny so it doesn’t reflect light back to the camera. Then, stretch out the material so it doesn’t have wrinkles.
If you haven’t studied photography, your instinct might be to put the backdrop right behind the subject. After all, that’s what looks best to the naked eye. You might feel the temptation to light the backdrop, so it looks as black as possible.
But remember, what you see in real life isn’t what it looks like on camera. Try setting up your backdrop eight or even 10 feet from your subject. To get an approximation of what it will look like on camera, try squinting to reduce some of the light that reaches your eye. Even if the cloth itself isn’t pure black, the backdrop will appear deep dark.
If your background is still visible, you can move the subject closer to the light source or increase the light output. There is a trick if you’re shooting outdoors or don’t have a backdrop, too. In either case, look for the darkest texture you can shoot against, like an open doorway or a dark wall.
Post-production and other tips
No matter how well you set up your backdrop, it’s possible that some glare or wrinkles may be visible in the final image. If you shoot outside or against a makeshift backdrop, you may still be able to see the texture of a wall or structure in the background.
If that’s the case, use the shadow and contrast tools in your photo editing app to get more color consistency. Even perfectly lit photos can use a little tweaking. And everything from your subject’s clothing to their skin tone can impact how they show up in the image.
If you’re a traveling photographer, you can invest in a collapsible backdrop, or you can learn Glyn Dewis’s “Invisible Black Backdrop” technique. His trick is to set his camera to the lowest possible ISO and the highest shutter speed so that no ambient light reaches the lens.
Once he finds the right f-stop to achieve a completely dark image, he takes a photo with his DLSR using a synchronized off-camera flash. Since the camera only picks up the light from the flash, his subject is illuminated and the background is not.
This allows him to take stunning black-and-white photos that look like he shot them in a studio, but that he actually shot outdoors in a field or parking lot.
Once you master the black background, check out our 11 dreamy blue photoshoot ideas!
Practice at a Peerspace
If you need to shoot portraits with a black background and don’t know where to start, consider booking a studio on Peerspace. We have professional portrait studios in cities across North America and beyond that you can rent by the hour. You can even book a less conventional space to practice taking black background photos, like a private theater, a castle, a loft, you name it. It’s a unique way to challenge yourself while honing your skills.
First, click the link above and enter your location or destination city. Then, see what pops up! You can filter results based on the type of venue you’re looking for, the price, and special features. Each venue has its own listing that includes high-res photos, upfront pricing, detailed descriptions, reviews from past renters, and a list of equipment you can use. If you have any questions, you can contact the venue’s host directly on the listing page. And when you’re ready to book, you can do so with just a few clicks.
Many of our locations come with the option of booking camera equipment as well, so you can have all of the backdrops you need on hand for your shoot. And remember, if you book a space that doesn’t have all of the equipment you need, contact the Concierge service. These event pros can source equipment from trusted local retailers and drop it off to you at your rental. Before you know it, you’ll have a portfolio full of stunning black background portraits and countless happy clients.
Black backdrop spaces on Peerspace
We’ve shared that there are tons of amazing black backdrop venues available for your use on Peerspace across the country. But let’s give you a few concrete examples, so you know precisely what’s out there!
Here is a handful of our favorite Peerspace studios with black backdrops:
- This Thames A: 3 Photo/ Film Sets studio in New York City (pictured above)
- This Lofts Spotlights & Neon Space in Chicago with spotlights and tube lights
- This Fashion, Art, & Music Lounge in Atlanta with multiple, textural black backdrops
- This Blackout Car Tunnel Studio Los Angeles with LED lights
Our 12 exotic photoshoot ideas post introduces you to even more incredible production venues!
Peerspace is your place for black backdrop photography
Figuring out how to shoot portraits with a black background doesn’t have to be complex. Once you do, you’ll be adding a very professional and versatile skill set to your personal brand.
And all you have to do is follow this helpful guide and book a stunning Peerspace studio near you. The above examples are only a small sampling of what’s available on our platform. So be sure to click the link and check out the venues near you! You may just amaze yourself at what you end up creating at a Peerspace.
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