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11-24-2016, 04:46 AM   #1
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Home studio backdrop - what do you use and recommend?

I have a problem that almost any picture I take in our house has some annoying item in the background.
I have a space that I could use as a small studio and am thinking of getting some kind of backdrop to start experimenting with flash photography and portraits.
My first thought was to get two or three paper backgrounds on rolls and then have mounts screwed to the ceiling.
I am thinking about the wider kind (107 inches/2.7 meters)...though THAT wide might be overkill for my rather small space.

But then I was thinking about using fabric.

What are your suggestions on this? What are the pros and cons of using paper vs fabric?

And if I use only paper. How many and what colors would you start with? My first thought was to go for black and white. But maybe a third color would be fun. Is gray a good option or a waste if you have black and white? Or is black or white a waste if you have gray? I know, it all depends on what you want to achieve but I don't mind if you just write your personal opinion as I really don't know what style I will be shooting the most.

/Tommy

11-24-2016, 05:44 AM - 1 Like   #2
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for someone just starting out I'd recommend flat grey paper - I know it sounds dull and unexciting but there is a lot you can do with it. You can use colour gels on your flash to change the backdrops colour. If you want different looks get textured backgrounds in neutral colors so you can use colored flash gels to change them to suit as well.

A flat green/blue chromakey background could be useful.

Avoid muslin backdrops, they tend to be made from thin material so removing wrinkles from them is annoying and they look so 90s. If you really must get fabric, get the thickest you can get to reduce the chance of wrinkles and creases when you roll it back up. Also to support heavy fabric backdrops, it should be obvious that you will need a really sturdy background support system.

Last edited by Digitalis; 11-24-2016 at 05:51 AM.
11-24-2016, 08:33 AM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by Digitalis Quote
A flat green/blue chromakey background could be useful.
I have foldable one and, yes, it's quite useful for casual work. Obviously, it needs more work in PP and you can't do everything you could do with a real backdrop. But with a bit of experience, you can get nice results. It's quite versatile if you don't want to spend a fortune in different backdrops to only get a handful of shots from time to time...

For a white background, I usually find a patch of wall (neutral color) and overexpose it with a flash. And from a learning perspective, it's a very useful technique to learn...

But for portraits done in the home, what I find work best is to do with what you have and not use any backdrop. There's always something to do, and shallow depth of field is your friend. Using flashes as the main lighting, it's possible to work things out so that the background gets quite underexposed. Even a cluttered background will not be bothering if blurred and underexposed by 1-2 stops relative to your subject...

So, unless you're planning to do a lot of studio work or formal portraits, I would suggest you look at the foldable backdrop option or learn the techniques to do on location or environmental portraiture. They're probably the easiest/fastest way to do portraitraiture in your home and also, IMHO, what also give the best results in these conditions. It's your home, you can study it for as long as you want to find the best spots and how to set your flashes to get interesting results... Use your imagination and look at all the rooms in your house, you might be surprised of what you'll find...
11-24-2016, 09:16 AM   #4
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53"" seamless paper will work for headshots and 1/2 length portraits. Plus it's good for making a sweep or cyc by taping to the wall (painters tape) and draping across a table top for product stuff or still lifes. It's cheap so you can try white and gray and lots of other colors. I keep a roll of white and a light gray in my little office studio.

Another way to go is 60" wide micro fleece from the fabric store. It rolls up without wrinkles. Get a seam run on each end for a rod pocket, slip in a 5 ft piece of pvc pipe and roll it up. I keep 3 colors in a dj truss bag for head shot backgrounds. Made a 2"x2" cross bar with a center hole, fits on light stand, use it client's living rooms. Recently picked a light weight backdrop supoort kit and that will work too.

107" is probably a bit much unless you have a big room. I use a 9x20 ft white vinyl in dance studios and it needs a heavy duty support, unweildy.

I mostly use white because I can take it white to grey to black.

And it all depends, planning is important. Shooting in client homes, you adapt and move furniture. Often end up shooting from one room into another. Did a family session where the light grey walls worked, bounced speedlight into ceiling corners and shot across the long dining room table .


Last edited by Brooke Meyer; 11-24-2016 at 09:24 AM.
11-24-2016, 10:45 AM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by CarlJF Quote
So, unless you're planning to do a lot of studio work or formal portraits, I would suggest you look at the foldable backdrop option or learn the techniques to do on location or environmental portraiture. They're probably the easiest/fastest way to do portraitraiture in your home and also, IMHO, what also give the best results in these conditions. It's your home, you can study it for as long as you want to find the best spots and how to set your flashes to get interesting results... Use your imagination and look at all the rooms in your house, you might be surprised of what you'll find...
Along this line of thought there is an excellent book called Studio Anywhere by Nick Fancher.

Amazon.com: Studio Anywhere: A Photographer's Guide to Shooting in Unconventional Locations (9780134084176): Nick Fancher: Books
11-24-2016, 01:47 PM   #6
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When we replaced our California King Size sheets & pillow cases I kept one of each for use as a background when needed. They are gray in color. I don't use them too often, The pillowcase was cut open and good for smaller objects or even head shots. Best of all, it was free.
11-24-2016, 03:12 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by Digitalis Quote
for someone just starting out I'd recommend flat grey paper - I know it sounds dull and unexciting but there is a lot you can do with it. You can use colour gels on your flash to change the backdrops colour...
Thanks for your input. That was really helpful. Paper it is! At least that's where I'll start. Interesting comment about the gels. I'll definitely try that some time in the future.

QuoteOriginally posted by CarlJF Quote
I have foldable one and, yes, it's quite useful for casual work. Obviously, it needs more work in PP and you can't do everything you could do with a real backdrop. But with a bit of experience, you can get nice results. It's quite versatile if you don't want to spend a fortune in different backdrops to only get a handful of shots from time to time...

For a white background, I usually find a patch of wall (neutral color) and overexpose it with a flash. And from a learning perspective, it's a very useful technique to learn...

But for portraits done in the home, what I find work best is to do with what you have and not use any backdrop. There's always something to do, and shallow depth of field is your friend. Using flashes as the main lighting, it's possible to work things out so that the background gets quite underexposed. Even a cluttered background will not be bothering if blurred and underexposed by 1-2 stops relative to your subject...
...
Good remarks. I'll keep in mind to try to keep trying in the rest of the home. I'm quite new to flash photography so there might be a few more spots in the house that are usable than I used to think of when not having a flash.
A foldable one seems interesting. I'll look into that as well.

QuoteOriginally posted by Brooke Meyer Quote
53"" seamless paper will work for headshots and 1/2 length portraits. Plus it's good for making a sweep or cyc by taping to the wall (painters tape) and draping across a table top for product stuff or still lifes. It's cheap so you can try white and gray and lots of other colors. I keep a roll of white and a light gray in my little office studio.

Another way to go is 60" wide micro fleece from the fabric store. It rolls up without wrinkles. Get a seam run on each end for a rod pocket, slip in a 5 ft piece of pvc pipe and roll it up. I keep 3 colors in a dj truss bag for head shot backgrounds. Made a 2"x2" cross bar with a center hole, fits on light stand, use it client's living rooms. Recently picked a light weight backdrop supoort kit and that will work too.

107" is probably a bit much unless you have a big room...
Yeah, I realise that more an more. I'll go with the less wide option as a start. As you say....it'll be cheap so I can try both gray and white and see what I like the best.

QuoteOriginally posted by chuck_c Quote
Along this line of thought there is an excellent book called Studio Anywhere by Nick Fancher.
Interesting, I'll look into that. Christmas is coming up so why not :-)

QuoteOriginally posted by Wingincamera Quote
When we replaced our California King Size sheets & pillow cases I kept one of each for use as a background when needed. They are gray in color. I don't use them too often, The pillowcase was cut open and good for smaller objects or even head shots. Best of all, it was free.
I'll start with paper I think but I will definitely mount the paper rolls to the ceiling in a way that I can hang almost anything with a few clamps.

Thanks a lot everyone. I'm very greatful for your comments. This was really helpful. Now I have motivation enough to clean out that room from all the junk that is currently there :-)

/Tommy
11-24-2016, 06:23 PM   #8
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Lately I'm using a 6' x 12' canvas painter's tarp. I have used bed sheets, curtains from the discount bin at the linens store, a table cloth, bulk fabric from the fabric store, etc.

11-24-2016, 08:13 PM   #9
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I agree that paper is likely the best place to start. You should also at least look at vinyls. The initial cost will be more but depending on where, how and how often you use it the vinyl may be cheaper in the long run versus paper. For full length portraits the backdrop will be stood on. High heels go right through paper. (They can go through vinyl too!) The vinyl can be taped/patched and cleaned whereas the paper is just torn off until you run out the roll. Also be aware that paper rolls can be very heavy. So look at the weight and consider if you are comfortable lifting the rolls and if it is safe to have potentially top heavy roll holders standing around in your living space.
11-25-2016, 09:59 PM   #10
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I have white, black, & gray paper on a 9' wide wall mount. I primarily use white seamless, but black is a close second. By controlling my lighting I can make my white many different shades of gray, so I don't use the gray roll often.
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