Here is a great tip if you are using a studio and don’t pack a bunch of backdrops. Of course, not owning many backdrops does not mean that should deprive yourself from the benefits of shooting against backdrops in multiple colors.
Photographer Neil van Niekerk suggest a simple and effective way to tap into an almost infinite about of colored backdrop by coloring them with light using gels.
As Neil puts it
One of the biggest challenges when working in a studio, is that you’re essentially shooting in a plain rectangular box. When photographing portraits, the two obvious ways out of that is to create an interesting (or complementary) background, and then to create interesting (or flattering) lighting.
And gelled lights make the perfect solution for that for many reasons. The first of which is that gels are cheaper than backdrops. The gel pack that Neil uses is the MagMod gel kit (check out the MagMod system, it’s amazing), but any combination of strobes and gels will work. The MagMods are $98 and a simple huge unfancified gel pack from Rosco is $23, and will probably be enough till the end of days.
But, I think that the more important benefit here comes from saving space. A gel pack is something that you can keep in a drawer, while a full set of backdrops will probably occupy a wall.
And lastly, with the huge amounts of gels out there, you will have more options, and an easier way to swap between them, than if you used “real” backdrops.
But not all is perfect, and the most critical difference is that since you are coloring with light, you will need to make sure that there are no light other than the gelled light hitting the backdrop and washing the color away. Neil uses a gridded Profoto RFi 1’×6 softbox for that and the grid makes sure that no light is spilled on the backdrop to compete with the colored light. Here is a photo of the setup that Neil uses:
If you find this method interesting, head over to the Tangents blog for the full tutorial.