Studio @ Home – Small Backdrops & Backgrounds

Photography Studio @ HomeOK, so you have your space, and ready to take your first shot on your new studio.

One of the first things that you’ll need is background. Whether you’re doing a product shot or a full portrait, backgrounds play essential role in the final outcome.

A good background will not create distractions from the subject, and will help draw attention to its features.A bad background, on the other hand, can spoil a perfectly good subject and create a cluttered feel that will distract from the subject.

In this post I’ll cover backgrounds for small objects and product shots.

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Going Seamless

If you ever looked for a backdrop, you probably noticed that most stores offer something called seamless backdrops. This means that the material the backdrop is made from (paper, muslin or other) is made out of one piece and does not have any seams connecting two pieces of cloth or paper. This is important since seams (or glue line for paper) creates distractions and is not always trivial to remove in Photoshop. And As a general rule, you want to avoid photoshop as much as you can. If you can do something it in-camera, it is the way to go. 

The Always There Way – A4/Letter Paper

Photography Studio @ Home - Small Backdrops & Backgrounds This is probably the easiest way to shoot a small product. Simply grab a piece of paper and use it as a backdrop. Paper is always around and A4 is small enough to usually be crease free. 

I usually place my table top next to a wall and gaffer-tape a piece of paper to the wall on one side and to the table top on the other. This method of using the paper will eliminate any lines at the edge of the table.

Photography Studio @ Home - Small Backdrops & Backgrounds  This provides a small environment to shoot with. This is how I shot my favorite icon on the left. Once you’re done, you don’t have to worry about the paper, you can put it back in the stack or throw it away.

As you probably guessed, the big constraint here is size. While this will work OK for cell phones, small toys and other eBay items, we will hit a barrier on bigger objects. This is why god invented bigger papers.

Going Bigger – Bristol Sheets

Bristol works in a similar manner to A4 paper. The size of a big Bristol board is A0 and it is way bigger and allows for more freedom.

You can play the same trick and create a continuous horizontal to vertical transition by taping the Bristol to the wall on one end and to the table on the other, or you can use two sheets – one on the table top and one on the wall – to create some effects as I will explain later.

Bristol sheets also allow you to”instantly”create colored backdrops by using (hold your breath) colored Bristol sheets. Most art and office supplies stores will have colored and patterned Bristol sheets. I usually keep a bunch of rolled up Bristol sheets of various colors just so I can pick the right color when I need one.

Now, Bristol sheets are still cheap, but they are not so commonly spread out around the house. This is why I tend to reuse a sheet until it either gets to dirty or gets some creases.

I also make it more robust by taping some gaffers tape on the sides. To mount the paper on the wall, I tape it where the gaffers tape is. This way the Bristol does not tear when I remove it from the wall.

Make A Pattern

Photography Studio @ Home - Small Backdrops & BackgroundsAnother interesting thing that you can do with Bristol sheets is paint on them yourself to create patterns.

You can use various colors, patterns and styles. Cloudy goes a long way here… 

Technically, you can also do this with A4 sized sheet, however if your subject is too close to the paper, the pattern might distract attention from your subject.

Photography Studio @ Home - Small Backdrops & BackgroundsTo take the image on the left, I took a Bristol sheet and lightly spray painted it with black spray.

I kept spraying from pretty high above to create some light patterns and not make any dark condensed spots.

On the top left corner you can see the bottle of spray, and another sheet I spray painted.


DIY Gridspot - bubble alianIf you are using strobes for lighting (which I am in this case) you can point a strobe to the backdrop to create some color effects. This is easily done if you use separate paper for table top and wall.

The simplest trick is to color the paper sheet. Place a gel sheet on the strobe and point it towards the wall. The flash will throw off some colored light and pint the background with the color of your desire.

The next trick is to block some of the light. You can use a snoot or a gridspot to blog some of the light going to wall and create a shaped pattern of color.

Take It Outside

Photography Studio @ Home - Small Backdrops & Backgrounds This last trick is actually a real easy one and requires almost no setup at all.

You can take the same paper or Bristol outside and shoot in a shady location. The shade will provide some diffused light while your Bristol/paper will provide a perfect background for a subject. The image on the left is also an example of using red Bristol.

Not much drama at first with this type of setup, and you need a shady place, but this is very quick and dirty way to make a shot with almost no setup time.

On the next post I am going to take it up one notch and discuss full scale backdrops solutions and mounts.

Oh yea, wify and I are heading for a week long vacation on Sunday, I may be slower to respond to emails and comment moderation may hold up a bit.