- 1 White background in digital world
- 2 So, what do you need?
- 3 Prepare Home Photo Studio
- 4 Setup your lights and camera
- 5 Adjust your setup and work with a model
- 6 Retouch in the Adobe Lightroom
- 7 Summary
In this tutorial you will learn how to shoot a portrait with a pure, isolated white background in your home photo studio. The images will require a slight retouch in Adobe Lightroom ($150), but it will only take a minute or two for each photo (there will be no need to spend a lot of time brushing out the background in Photoshop!).
So, why do you need white background?
Because there are benefits to having objects and models against a white background, these include:
- greater commercial value (easy to remove the background)
- white background provides fewer distractions and leads the viewer to focus on the subject
- colors in the image pop as there are no contrasting colors on the background
- the background can be extended almost infinitely
- the background can be changed to any color, gradient or image easily
White background in digital world
Digital media consists of pixels. Each pixel can have a combination of three colors - red, green, and blue (RGB). Pixel color is defined by how much red, green or blue it has, and the value can be in a range of 0 to 255. Zero means black. If all 3 colors have a pixel value of zero then your image is black. You can compare it to a room with the lights off, no pixel value means you are in the dark, or black. On the other hand - if all 3 colors (RGB) are at the maximum value (255 each) - then the image will appear white in color. To get a clear white background, all pixels should have a maximum RGB value of (255 255 255). This is pretty easy to achieve, all you need to do is overexpose the desired part of image. Therefore, the camera lens must receive enough light to reach an RBG value of 255 or more. Since this is achievable with pretty much any camera, you are set!
So, what do you need?
A photo studio | $0
For larger objects like people you will require a bit more space, at minimum a room with dimensions of 3 X 5 meters. If you are trying to capture images of small to average sized objects such as flowers, toys or smartphones, all you need is a surface the size of a table top. Personally, I am going to try and fit a full height portrait in my home photo studio.
DSLR Camera | $150 - $1500
Actually any camera with manual settings and the ability to control the flashes remotely is good, but you will get much better results with a DSLR camera with suitable lenses. I will use my Canon 6D (about $1300 new).
Camera lens | $50 - $1000
A lens with a longer zoom capability is better, as it will shorten your view angle. This way there is no need to have the huge background that would be required with a wider lens which would expose more background area in the photo. The only thing you want to keep in mind is that with a zoom lens you will have to go farther from the object to fit it in a frame. I will use my Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens ($300 used).
Not all lenses are good enough for capturing an isolated white background. As there will be a lot of light in front of the lens, the effect will be similar to shooting an image against the sun. A cheap lens will lose contrast, have a visible chromatic aberration, flare and may have other disadvantages.
Please tell us about your experience with various lenses!
Flash light | $100 - $1000
The best option here is to use some speedlights or strobes (studio light) with the same color temperature and the ability to control power and zoom. You will need a minimum of 2 light sources, but 4-6 will make your life easier. Speedlights can be manual - non TTL (Through The Lens or TTL is automation technology that measures the required flash power using a pre-flash that the speed light shoots before the picture is taken). Some older speedlights are TTL compatible only for older cameras, but they can be purchased used and using a manual mode is enough. Since we want to control our flashes manually and use triggers - almost any speedlight is good (no matter what brand you are using).
YongNuo is another Chinese brand making cheep manual speedlights. They started to "build-in" its trigger receivers, however, I found that YongNuo speedlights color temperature differs slightly from the listed above flashes - so I would recommend you go more for Canon or Nikon speedlight (new or old) instead of a YongNuo. However, a good set of 3-4 YongNuo speedlights will also work.
Triggers | $35 - $800
The goal here is to fire our off-camera light sources with wires or remotely. Wireless radio triggers are the easiest way to achieve this. YongNuo were the first to launch cheap and reliable triggers that work. I will use 4 receivers: RF-602RX and 1 sender: RF-602TX ($85 new, for all). An optical trigger can be used as well - they are cheap and wireless.
Pocket Wizard are top quality triggers with TTL support, prices start from $350 for a set of 2 receivers and 1 sender.
Softbox, umbrella, stand, stand adapter | $100 - $800
The plan is to use soft lighting for the model and hard lighting for the background. There are many options for diffusing light and making it softer. I will use an umbrella ($12) for the main light and a softbox 23x23 cm ($10) for the key light.
I have different options for holding flashes:
- Cheap Chinese light stand W-803 ($22) + Hot Shoe Swivel Mount Photo Umbrella Holder ($4)
- LumoPro LP604 5-Section 6ft Stand ($40) + C Type 360° Swivel Flash Shoe Umbrella Holder ($4)
- Mefoto A0350Q0 Travel Tripod ($140)
- Cheap no name tripod ($12)
All these options work fine indoors, but if I had to recommend one stand it would be the LumoPro.
Background, the floor and the fan | $40 - $70
For raising hair up a bit I will use a domestic fan ($35).
For background I will use paper (my roll is only 90cm wide - $20). I need a 1.3m wide background, so I will cut it in 1.3m long pieces and fasten them together.
The main key to this technique is to use a white glossy floor. It will reflect overexposed background and add a nice reflection of the model, so - the floor also will be overexposed. All pixels except the model and the model's reflection will have maximum RGB values (255 255 255).
Here are some ways to achieve this white glossy background:
- White glossy Extruded polyester plate, mine is 1mm thick, 1.25m × 2m ($22)
- Tile Board $9 per 1.2m × 2.4m sheet
- Gloss White Self Adhesive Vinyl ($15)
Extruded polyester can be rolled up for transportation which is a benefit, however, lying it down on the uneven floor can cause a slightly wry reflection, it is also quite easy to scratch. Tile Board, on the other hand, can not be rolled up, while the ability to roll up Self Adhesive Vinyl depends on where it is glued.
Prepare Home Photo Studio
I was thinking for a while about how to fit a photo studio in my flat. I did not want to use my 17-40mm lens, but a 100mm lens instead. In order to fit a full height portrait standing 1.2m away from the background, using 100mm lens, the photographer must shoot the image from 5+ meters from the background. Not all living places will be able to accommodate the required space. Also, I was needed to find space to place 4 flashes and the fan. Finally I used two wooden columns to hold the background paper that also spilled onto the floor. This way, in the hallway, I was able to attain the necessary 5 meter distance I required from the background. As my extruded polyester is a little bit transparent, white paper on the floor will help. So I just placed the plate on the paper.
Unfortunately, since I do not have a 1.3+ meter wide paper roll, my background will have lines. 3 pieces of paper overlapping will give 2 lines. Thankfully, they will disappear from the image upon overexposure. To ensure a seamless background I just placed the middle piece of paper under the 2 other pieces as the flashes will be placed at about the same height as middle piece. This will prevent any visible shadows.
For smaller home studios use a 85mm or even a 50mm lens to be closer to model and the background.
It is possible to achieve a similar result with just 2 light sources - one for the background and one for the model with some bounce light, but it is harder. I will point 2 speedlights on the background, and 2 on the model.
Setup your lights and camera
It is not a good idea to use speedlights at their full power because they can overheat and break, so use 1/2 power max. Start with 1/2 or 1/4 power for the background and 1/4 or 1/8 for the model. I need more light on the background and since I used a hard light for it, comparing it with the softened light for the model, there will be a pretty big difference in the amount of light that the camera will pick up. Softened light tends to lose it's power.
For the umbrella and softbox I used a 24mm speedlight zoom. the light will bounce inside the softbox and the umbrella and will not hit the image directly as hard light. However, background speedlights can have an unwanted effect on the model. So use the zoom carefully, depending on how close flashes are to the background, zoom in the range of 28mm - 35mm will be good.
As we have a controlled light with the same color temperature, it is possible to get an image with exceptional technical quality. So I will use these camera settings:
- Aperture: F8 (usually best results for most lenses)
- ISO: 100 (bets possible image quality in terms of noise and color)
- Shutter Speed: 1/160 (my camera max sync speed)
- File format: RAW
Choose between horizontal and vertical frame depending on the model's pose. It doesn't make sense to shoot horizontally if a model is standing, this would just be a waste of space and pixels.
If the background is well lit from bottom to top, overexposed light reflection from the floor will be seen from different vertical angels - this will give more room to operate and decrease the defected shot count.
Adjust your setup and work with a model
First of all we need to overexpose the background, turn on background flashes, take a shot and check if it is overexposed. Usually overexposed areas are blinking black and white. If it is not - increase speedlight power or ISO a little bit. Try to find settings where the background is just starting to appear overexposed - so that there are some areas close to the image frame that are not overexposed but the main background area is. This setting will ensure that there is not so much light as to affect the final image quality.
The model itself should be as underexposed as possible - this way we ensure that the background lighting will not affect the model's lighting.
Now turn off your background triggers to adjust the flashes for the model. I used a speedlight with an umbrella to give a big soft light source from the right and a speedlight with a softbox to provide a bit less soft light from the left.
The softbox on the left side was not big enough to provide light coverage of the model from bottom to top, a larger long softbox would give better results here.
Now turn on all triggers, take a test shot to check all is good, turn on the fan and start to work on model poses.
Here we can see that the background is easily extendable to any dimension.
If the model is too close to the background, its lighting will also affect the model.
Here are the results with other lenses:
As you can see, the result with old Macro-Takumar 50mm lens is dull and dirty. 17-40 is acceptable but too wide for a portrait.
A good tip: as my background speedlights fire with more power than the model speedlights, they will require a bit more time to recharge. So if your camera is set to "Continuous Shooting" and you take 2 shots in a row, you will have two images with different lighting. Second one will not have an overexposed background, or at least not all background will be overexposed. This will give you a different looking image at almost no cost.
Retouch in the Adobe Lightroom
Import your images to Lightroom, open a Developer tab. Play with sliders as you normally would to make a correction to color, contrast, sharpening and overall look. Switch on "Highlight Clipping".
The overexposed area now is highlighted in a red color. Pick up "Adjustment Brush" and set Exposure +2.
Draw with the brush around the model where the background is not red (overexposed). Use "Automask" for crooked lines and hairs. If you have some part in the image beyond your background paper and it is not overexposed with +2 settings, just press "New" under the brush in the panel and draw again. Repeat until background is completely red. Export and you are done!
As you can see, it is not too hard to achieve an isolated white background at home. You probably already own a camera and one or two speedlights, in this case all you will need is paper, a glossy floor, softbox and triggers. I have tried this technique with my beige walls and laminate flooring (which is not white but is glossy a bit) and it worked! Perhaps the result is not as clean as it could be, however, I was able to achieve the look of an isolated white background.
I hope this was helpful. Try it out and share your results!
Big thanks to our model Luize!