Josette asked me via email:
Q. When shooting on location in a client’s home, I bring backdrops in case they don’t have much of an area in their home that is free and clear of distractions. How do I get that seamless studio background look without my backdrop looking like a fabric? Is this all about the lighting? I have a Nikon D90, using at Nikon 35mm F1.8 fixed lens, and I have a speedlight attached to my hotshoe which I use if I don’t have enought natural light.
A. Yes, you’re right – it’s all about the lighting! The white seamless look can be really difficult in a client’s home unless they have a huge space to set-up a backdrop. Traditionally, white seamless is achieved by lighting a white background (mine is vinyl) with studio strobes and then lighting the subject with two key lights in the front. Check out this picture I took of my set-up last week in the studio:
For clients in their home, I used to try to pull this off, but it simply wouldn’t work. So I stopped trying to stress out and do this and instead began just bringing a soft box and doing ones like this in the family room:
Or like this against the client’s wall papered wall:
I just found that when a client really wants the white seamless, they will have to come to me in the studio. If you don’t have one, you could hire a church hall and set one up for the day or rent a fully equipped studio for an hour or two.
The difference between just using a white background and trying to achieve the popular white seamless look is that with white seamless, you don’t have a white background. You have a LIGHT background. A background that is a glowing, bright, white light and subjects that are lit from the front makes for the appearance of a room of light. When you light the white backdrop (be it vinyl or paper roll) with studio lights, you’re actually turning it into a gigantic light source of it’s own.
What made me fully understand this principle was when I was getting huge amounts of dazzle, orbs and refraction in my photos and I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I realised that I was over-lighting my backdrop (the lights were up too high) and what this did was basically turn the entire backdrop into a ginormous light which was shooting directly into my lens. Like aiming a light right at my camera. When I turned the lights down, I stopped seeing all this dazzle and light spill and it taught me a very valuable lesson – white seamless isn’t about having a white background. It’s about having a LIGHT background.
Hope that makes sense and is helpful!