Two things about backdrops.
1. Studio backdrops are not cheap. A single color muslin backdrop can cost up to 30$ and the fancy ones with patterns can cost even more.
2. Backdrops take space. No matter how you look at it, each roll of seamless or fold up fabric take space. It is especially “bad” if you’re using seamless paper. I mean those rolls are huge and having just a few of them will get you a ‘sad smiley’ with your significant other.
The easy solution of course is to use a black backdrop; a white backdrop and some magic to get all the rest. (If you’ve already gelled flashes till your head popped, skip right to the pattern part).
Getting a Colored Backdrop
Using gels is something that I briefly discussed on the S@H backdrop post. If you have a spare strobe lying around, you can follow the next steps to get your backdrop colors. (Hey, I know that there a team forming right now to get me for uttering the words “spare strobe”. I have military training. Be warned).
Anyways, there are 5 easy steps for getting that colored backdrop:
1. Mount the muslin on a wall. I use black muslin for this, as it will absorb all color other than the one you’re splashing with your strobe. If you are indeed going with muslin make sure it is not shiny or reflective.
2. Get Gel. If you’re all picky, go with pro gels from Rosco. You can get a sample gel book from Amazon for a nickel, or you can get a pre cut pack. If you don’t care much about color temp, just get some cellophane on the local art store. Which ever you choose, cut it to 4cm by 10cm straps.
3. Gel you flash. There are several ways to do that. The most common one is to use some Velcro or speedstrap around your flash and attach the gel to that. Another is to use some gaffers tape on the gel strap (just a little bit) to temporary glue it to the flash.
4. Protect your subject. It is light that we are dealing with. Any gelled light that hits the subject will cast it with wonderful backdrop color. Use a flag or a snoot to block all light from your subject. Alternatively, you can place the flash between the subject and background.
5. Go ahead and shoot. (This one is kinda self explanatory).
Getting a Pattern
Ok, we solved the color issue, but a single color backdrop can be boring. And artistically limiting. Fortunately there a cheap way to get all the patterns in the world for about a penny a pattern.
Alberto Freire, whom you may remember as the guy behind the print-a-gel project, came up with a cool way to give your backdrops some visual stretch.
1. Create a pattern sheet. For this part you’ll need three things: a pattern, a transparency sheet (like the one you get on office depot) and a printer. Create a pattern be selecting a dense image and converting it to black and white. Then print the image on the transparency sheet. Done! Pros will call this sheet a cookie, I just call it a sheet of transparency.
2. Let the light hit your pattern before it hits the backdrop (see image on top of the post). Place the sheet between the strobe and the muslin. Now pop the strobe – voilà, an instant pattern. Link to this project here.