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7 Easy White Background Photography Tips

Lighting a white background is one of the most important skills you can learn as a photographer. When you have a firm grasp on white background photography, you can take corporate portraits, product photography, and much more. You can even use a seamless backdrop to create the “infinite white background” effect, which is popular in movies and TV commercials. But if you don’t learn a few basic principles of white background photography, you could spend hours moving lights around trying to figure it out by trial and error. Here are seven easy tips to help you master white background photography when you’re on the go or in the studio.

1. Use a proper light meter

With all of the built-in tools to adjust your focus and exposure, it’s tempting to put your camera on autopilot and let it do all the work. A big part of photography, however, is understanding how light falls on your subject in ways that aren’t visible to the naked eye.

When shooting white backgrounds, your background should be brighter than the subject of your photo by around two f-stops. This means you’ll need to use a light meter or the spot meter on your camera to measure both the amount of light falling on your subject and hitting the background. If your background is too well lit, your subject will be in silhouette. If the subject is more brightly lit, then your background will appear grey or off-white.

2. Keep some distance between your subject and the backdrop

The biggest mistake that new photographers make when shooting on a white background is placing the subject right up against the backdrop. But it’s important to leave enough space between them so that you can light both the subject and backdrop separately – 10 feet is usually a good place to start.

If your backdrop is too close, then any light you aim at the backdrop will spill onto your subject as well. You may end up with a halo effect or an improperly backlit subject. Your subject will look “flat” due to the lack of contrast. Leave enough space between them, and you’ll be able to light them both separately. Use flags and diffusion to direct and control the light.

3. Use a seamless backdrop

If you’re shooting in a studio, then you may already have cloth or paper backdrops available. For example, many of the venues and studios available on Peerspace come with the option to rent photo and video equipment directly from your host. Otherwise, you should consider investing in seamless paper backdrops, which are long-lasting and portable.

Why are paper backdrops best for white background photography? While they’re heavier and easier to tear than muslin backdrops, they’re less likely to appear dirty or wrinkled. You don’t have to iron or steam them before your shoot, and their uniform color means you can easily make adjustments in post-production.

4. Create an “infinite” background

For headshots and close-ups, you can make do with a small backdrop that fills the part of the background that will be in frame. For full-body shots, you’ll need to extend your backdrop across the floor so that your subject is standing on it.

If that’s the case, you can use clamps and tape to hold the backdrop in place. Place a thin layer of plexiglass over the paper to prevent it from getting damaged when your model stands on it. Plexiglass will also help you add a bit of depth to your image. While you want to avoid casting shadows on the backdrop, floor shadows can prevent your model from appearing to “float” in mid-air.

5. Make sure your background is lit evenly

Looking at the LCD screen on your camera is an unreliable way to tell if your image is under- or overexposed. The best way to make sure that it’s evenly lit is to use the built-in histogram function on your camera, which is typically found by pressing the “info” button, depending on which make and model of camera you have.

The histogram is a graph which shows the brightness of each pixel on a scale of zero to 255. For a well-exposed photograph, the values will peak in the middle of the range, with highlights showing up toward the right of the scale and shadows to the left. If all of your values are clustered to the right, then your image is overexposed; if they’re clustered to the left, it’s underexposed.

You can also use the zebra stripe function, which uses diagonal lines to show which parts of a photo are overexposed.  It takes some practice, but once you know how to read it, you’ll be able to tell instantly whether you need to adjust the lighting or exposure for any given shot.

6. Make your own lightbox

If you’re doing product photography, then it doesn’t make sense to roll out an entire seamless backdrop to shoot a product that’s five inches tall. Creating your own mini-studio or DIY lightbox will allow you to properly light and expose your products. The same principles that apply to full-size backdrops apply here. Instead of a roll of seamless white paper, you can use white posterboard attached to the inside of a cardboard box. Use a small sheet of plexiglass as your surface to create those reflective floor shadows.

7. Shoot outdoors

You don’t need to shoot in a studio to achieve a white background effect, but shooting with natural light can definitely add complications to your setup. Since the sun can be a lot stronger than studio lights, having flags and reflectors on hand will give you control over how much light is falling on your subject and backdrop.

For outdoor shoots, it helps to have an assistant to make adjustments as your lighting conditions change. Stationary flags and diffusion simply won’t work if the light is changing too quickly. Try to shoot in the shade or on an overcast day to avoid overexposure.

There are a lot of factors to keep in mind when shooting white background photography, but with a little practice, it will become second nature to you. White backgrounds are portable and versatile, as well as easy to work with in post-production. You can use them for product photography, portraits, and more. Why not rent a fully equipped studio on Peerspace and give it a try today?

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