It’s one of the oldest and most fundamental techniques when it comes to shooting both portraits and product photography in the studio. But it’s also one of the most misunderstood and difficult to grasp for a lot of newer photographers. Yes, that’s right, I’m talking about the ubiquitous white background shot.
In this video, Rob Hall walks us through the process of getting two white backgrounds. The first demonstration is in a portrait setting, showing how the background is lit vs the subject and how to prevent the background from flaring into the lens. In the second, Rob sets up a small product shot using a light table. Both are lit quite differently but achieve the same result.
For the portrait setup, Rob has a pair of lights, cross-lit on the background to provide as even as possible illumination throughout. It’s a pretty common setup for white seamless (and, coincidentally, a lot of green screen videos, for the same reason). It provides a nice flat and even light across the background with as few hotspots as possible. V-Flats are placed in front of the lights to prevent any light from them spilling onto the subject so that they can be lit separately.
Rob takes a different approach for the product shot, however, preferring to use a small table designed for shooting products. This has a translucent white base and background that allows Rob to shine a white light directly from behind to evenly light both the ground and rear surfaces underneath and behind the product.
You can actually use a variation of the approach Rob takes with products and apply it to people, too. You can place a large softbox (make sure to double-diffuse it) on a strobe, place it directly behind your subject, instead of lighting up a whole white wall, pointed back towards the camera. As long as the exposure between the background light and your camera is set so that it isn’t massively overexposed, causing flare, then it should work quite well. This is a similar principle to the way that products like the Lastolite Hilite work, too.
You’ll definitely want to take the time to balance out your exposure between the background light, the main lights on your subject and your camera settings, but the process Rob describes for both situations is pretty easy to follow. And once you understand the principles, you should be able to easily adapt it to your own needs.