Choosing a backdrop for use in the studio largely comes down to personal preference. I rarely shoot in the studio, so I tend to go with cloth backdrops. For those who do it regularly, though, paper is the optimum choice. In terms of cost and ease of use, there’s really nothing out there that beats it. But some people get put off using paper, for one reason or another. Mostly due to a simple lack of knowledge.
In this video, photographer Joe Edelman tells us everything we need to know about working with seamless paper backdrops. Which to buy, how to store them, how to use them, how to make them last longer, and finally a couple of DIY tips to save you some money.
This is the biggest factor to consider before you buy. How big of a backdrop do you really need? If you’re only ever going to be photographing small products or headshots, it’s unlikely that you’ll need a 107″ (2.7m) wide roll of paper. But if you’re doing full length family portraits, a 26″ (0.66m) wide backdrop generally isn’t going to be of much use.
Joe prefers to use Savage backdrops. He’s been using them for over 40 years, and they’ve served him very well. But there are paper backdrops available from a variety of suppliers around the world. Do your research, though. While you may be tempted by some less expensive brands, make sure to check reviews from people who’ve actually used them, as you often get what you pay for.
There’s 2 basic ways to set up a seamless paper backdrop. If you’re in a permanent studio, you can hang them from the ceiling (or the wall if it has high enough ceilings). These allow you to maximise the vertical height available behind your subject.
Sometimes, though, you want to be more portable. So, a backdrop stand is more useful. Paper gets extremely heavy, though. A 107″ x 36′ (2.7x11m) roll weighs in at around 15lbs (6.8Kg). The 150ft roll (46m) weighs closer to 49lbs (22Kg). Not the kind of thing you want to be hanging off a “lightweight” background stand.
So, make sure you get one that’s rated for the weight with which you wish to load it!
10 Tips to make paper backgrounds last longer
Joe also offers up 10 specific tips to help make your backgrounds last longer. Some of these mistakes are why some photographers give paper such a hard time.
- 5:37 – Never roll a seamless background out over carpet
- 6:05 – Use A Clamps to secure your roll
- 6:45 – Don’t walk on the paper wearing shoots
- 7:35 – Gaffer tape is your best friend
- 8:21 – Make the floor shine with plexiglass or acrylic
- 8:38 – Enlist the help of an assistant
- 8:58 – Keep them clean with white latex-free erasers
- 9:27 – Use a straight edge cut the paper and recycle
- 10:03 – Watch out for humidity
- 10:43 – Store them vertically
Counterweights prevent your paper from curling up as you pull it out. If you don’t have an assistant with you, these can be invaluable. Not only do they help to keep the paper straight and smooth, but they prevent you from accidentally rolling out and ruining too much paper. Commercial options are available from companies like Savage and Manfrotto, but making your own with some PVC pipe is fairly straightforward.
Essentially, you just cut a slot along the length of the pipe, slot in your paper, and hold it with tape. Now, it’ll always hang down and won’t curl up at the corners while you try to tape it down.
DIY Background Storage
As mentioned, humidity can be an issue. As can storing backdrops laid down against flat surfaces. If you can’t get around these issues, this DIY storage solution is ideal. The common suggestion is to use 4″ (10cm) PVC pipe. But, with wide backdrops, that’s a long piece of pipe. It can get expensive, heavy, and unwieldy when you’re attempting to remove or insert the roll.
Joe’s solution uses a 10ft length of 4″ bendy drain pipe and a couple of end caps. This also helps to lock out the humidity and keep your background protected, but is much cheaper and lighter. And you don’t need a 20ft long room to remove a 10ft backdrop from a 10ft pipe.
So, if you were still on the fence about using paper backdrops, or you already use them but are facing challenges, this video should help solve some of those mysteries.