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.


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.


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 🙂


Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™
Previous post
Interview with Wedding and Fashion Photographer Scarlett Lillian
Next post
Blueprint - Getting Rid of Poor Color with Photoshop Actions



White Backdrops: How to Photograph on White in Small Spaces