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White Backdrops: How to Photograph on White in Small Spaces

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™

White Backdrops: How to Photograph on White in Small Spaces

photographing on high-key backdrop

White backdrops are hard to photograph, especially in tight spaces.  Ellie and Jenna’s dance recital is coming up.  I just had to photograph then in their costumes before the big day.  I am getting kind of rusty with my studio lights as I much prefer natural light photography. But I did what I could and I will share with you my set up and equipment.

I only have an 11×13″ studio/office (and the desk now takes over 2 feet so closer to 11×11″). Most say this is way to small to achieve a white backdrop.  I am hear to tell you it can be done.  So if you have a small space, you may want to read on…

dance recital image

I wanted to get a crisp, clean look so I used my Lastolite LL LB8867 6 x 7 Feet Hilite Background. I have two Alien Bees 400 lights shining inside it. I meter for these lights at f/16 so the background gets purposely blown at 255 for R G and B.  Then I used one Alien Bees 800 as my main.  I meter this at f8.  I used a Westcott Apollo JS Softbox with Recessed Front for Flash (50×50″ softbox) as my modifier.  It is huge but the catchlights are so worth it!  For my fill, I used a California Sunbounce Mini Super Saver Starter Kit with 3′ x 4′ Frame & Silver / White Textile Reflector.  I just recently got it and LOVE it.  I plan to use it both in studio and outdoors. On the floor I use a piece of tileboard from Home Depot, cheep and effective!  The only thing is for full body shots, I need to clone out the black rim around the Hilite, well unless I use the sweep, but it gets a little slippery.

Since so many asked, here is a diagram of my entire office – well minus the mess…  Hope this better helps explain my set up.

hi-key-set-up2

I started my shoot with my Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L on my Canon EOS 5D Mark II.  Because of the small space I was not happy with the light distortion of the 35L on my full frame camera in such a small space. So I switched to my Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L. It was perfect.  Had I wanted full body, I likely would have needed the 35L and had i just wanted closeups I could have used my 85L.  But I wanted flexibility so I decided on the 50mm length to get closeups and 3/4 length.

dance_recital_2009-45

Next, for the set up.  As I mentioned, the Lastolite LL LB8867 6 x 7 Feet Hilite Background was against the back wall with the 2 AB 400 lights inside.  The AB 800 with the Westcott was at a 45 degree angle to the subjects with the light feathering them.  At times they actually were more directly in the light, and this is when you can see the red channel got fully blown in spots a few times.  The Sunbounce was at about a 90 degree angle to them and was super close to them – really they could almost reach out and touch the Softbox and the Reflector.  As for camera settings, I was at f8-f9, ISO 200, 1/125.

dance recital picture of twins

I had about a 2 foot area to move around and shoot.  It was almost like looking through a small window at them.  They did not have a ton of room to move either.  They could not be as creative in posing as they or I would have liked.  But it was still fun.

For post processing, I used Lightroom to take them out of Raw, and slightly adjusted color and synced, as I could not find my gray card and I did not want to give my twins time to change their mind.  Then I extracted into Photoshop ran “Color Burst” from the “Complete Workflow” and “Touch of Light/Touch of Darkness.” I did not smooth their skin, but I did use the patch tool and clone tool set to lighten for their under eye creases and shadows.  Last step was to crop if desired and sharpen.

twins at a dance recital

These images needed very little post processing.  I did NOT do anything to the eyes – the Westcott seriously gets catchlights that need no extra help. And at f8-f9 it is hard to mess up focus when I am use to shooting so wide open.

I hope this helped.  I would love your comments.  Oh – and if you have advice about me not blowing my red channel, I am open to that too 🙂

Jodi

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31 Comments

  1. sara
    May 22, 2009 at 7:03 am —

    Hi Jodi. i have just got a 50mm 1.2f for my nikon and i cant seem to get that crisp focas that you achieve. Is there a trick?

  2. May 22, 2009 at 8:02 am —

    Thanks Jodi. I have a little space and almost the same set-up, but just moved into my studio and haven’t used it yet. This gives me more confidence in the equipment I have. I can’t wait to work with it!! These shots look great!!
    T

  3. May 22, 2009 at 10:05 am —

    I’m not familiar with studio lighting AT ALL yet, but these came out amazing, and i absolutely LOVE the catchlights!

  4. May 28, 2009 at 9:54 am —

    GREAT post! I’m wondering if it would work for you to put some white Gaffers tape on the black rim of the Lastolite (why in the WORLD would they make that black and not white???) to save you from having to photoshop the black in full-lengths? I’m not sure what you meant by sweep?

  5. May 28, 2009 at 9:58 am —

    what a great idea Christine – just not sure I could do it neat enough…

    They have these sweeps – that are almost like vinyl – it could cover the black and then goes out 6 feet for the subject to stand on…

  6. May 29, 2009 at 11:45 pm —

    Jodi I have the extra large Hilite backdrop thats like 6×7…Its large but tall adults can stand up close to area without a problem…We used the same setup last week photography 38 3-4 yr olds but only had one light for the back and 1 key light. It took little more post processing work but white backgrounds came out steller…I highly recommend this set up…The kids can actually stand right up on the backdrop. They can even run around without and issue. One boy did several Karate kicks and placed in storyboard fashion…Wish could post some pics to show how easy this was!! Infact this was our first time using and parents just loved the photos

  7. September 3, 2009 at 10:48 am —

    I have a bit larger studio so have the luxury of a bit more space but don’t worry too much about getting the background pure white from lighthing. Its very quick and easy to dodge the background to white for any ordered images. THis also means that the subjects are correctly lit and you don’t lose any detail, especially when they wear white t shirts!!

  8. Christy
    September 18, 2009 at 10:58 pm —

    Best tutorial EVER to get a great white background is:

    http://www.zarias.com/?p=71

    In this blog the person had a Lastolite backdrop thing in which you can put the lights in the background so that there is no spill from the lights onto the subjects. They can shoot in a confined space because of the no spill. If they did not have a Lastolite they would need much more room so that the subjects could move far enough away from the background as to not get and spill light washing out the back of them.

    Go to the tutorial if you don’t want to spend $600 on a Lastolite background I know I don’t have money like that, I wish I did!!!

  9. Rudy
    November 29, 2009 at 4:22 am —

    Thanks Jodi! I enjoyed the pictures you’ve posted.

    http://tipdeck.com/

  10. January 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm —

    Hi Jodi,

    Thanks for the great tips! Your twins are absolutely adorable, and your photos are great too! I have a very new business through Etsy, where I sell my handmade earrings and accessories, and I’m constantly looking for new photography tips! I’m pretty new to photography (took one or two classes about 7 years ago), so I’m still at the point where I really don’t know what I’m doing. As of right now, all of my photos take place outside, but I’m really considering switching to a white backdrop to give it a more professional, catalog-type look. Your explanation has giving me some great advice, Thanks so much!!

    Rachel

  11. October 14, 2013 at 10:29 am —

    Thanks for the technical’s. I have a white background shoot coming up and will try out some of your technique. Post processing is an issue with me as its great to be able to get the shot without it. Many Thanks

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White Backdrops: How to Photograph on White in Small Spaces