Photography backdrops come in so many styles and types that it can be downright confusing when trying to find that perfect match for your next shoot. After all, you will need to decide between various colors, shades, patterns, and materials before taking a shot.
No one has time to try every backdrop during a shoot, so developing a good instinct for the right one, whether in the studio or on location, is a skill every photographer should learn. There are few rules to follow other than this: Don’t let your backdrop overwhelm your subject (that is, unless you want it to.) So you see, there are no rules!
Whether doing a product shoot, making a family portrait or photographing a professional model, there’s no sense in limiting yourself to a few backdrops when so many excellent choices are available. Muslin, seamless paper and vinyl backdrops are available to photographers who need something high quality without breaking the bank.
It all depends on your subject and the dynamic you wish to create. The good news is that you have a certain amount of creative freedom here. Of course you’ll need to take into account the client’s desires, but this is why you were hired - to figure out what the client needs, which may be different than what the client wants.
For example, let’s say you’re shooting a professional model who wants a featureless white background for that modern, vivid appearance that is often used for advertising and editorial fashion layouts. Seamless paper backdrops are excellent for creating this smooth, clean look and are light and easy to work with. Simply hang a roll from a stand and you’re off and running.
Yet there’s so much more to paper than a simple white backdrop! Savage offers 68 colors in their seamless paper so you can easily experiment with many different shades to achieve a unique look appropriate for your model or subject. As always, your model’s skin tone, hair color, clothing, eye color, etc. will play a factor in choosing the right backdrop color.
Photo Courtesy of Ryan Walsh, Featuring Ocean Blue Seamless Paper
Which color will work best? For decades, many photographers have gone with three colors as their standby backdrops: White, gray, and black. Gray is useful because it is subtle and tends to focus attention on the subject, which is most often the goal in portraiture. Black can convey mystery and makes for a classic look that stays permanently stylish.
While these mainstays will often get the job done, it would be a mistake to limit oneself to the same colors that many other photographers are likely to also use. Why not try red for its ability to arouse feelings of excitement or passion in a shot? There’s purple which can make a strong impact with exciting results. Yellow brings energy to a backdrop, and blue communicates boldness and power very well. Browns and greens make for an earthy look that often puts people at ease or communicates a sense of growth or health.
Seamless paper can be especially good for product and commercial shoots too, when a featureless backdrop is paramount to showcasing the product. And along the way, if the paper becomes smudged or wrinkled from use, simply cut off the old portion and unroll a clean new section for a fresh backdrop. Seamless paper is cost effective, making it the most affordable way to create a variety of backdrop colors.
On the other hand, what if you’re asked to photograph your client in a traditional portrait style for use within her corporation’s website? You might go with a vinyl background because of its ability to hang flat and render a consistent look regardless of how many times it is rolled and unrolled. Savage's Infinity Vinyl is tremendously durable and has a matte finish that won’t reflect a flash. If your client returns for an updated photo, or refers co-workers who want the same look, you can make it happen easily and quickly with vinyl.
Vinyl is relatively heavy and requires some work to break down and set up, so it may not always be appropriate if shooting on location. However, it remains a preferred backdrop for many photographers who enjoy its stately, classic appearance.
Now let’s say you’ve got a location shoot inside a home where you’ll be photographing a romantic boudoir session. A muslin backdrop may be the ideal choice here. This fabric drop is made from 100% cotton with a dense weave that can be hung from a stand, or simply draped over a door or chair. Savage’s muslin lineup includes solid colors, hand-painted patterns, and a variety of other styles for virtually any type of look.
Photo Courtesy of Ryan Walsh, Featuring Thebes Hand Painted Muslin
The beauty of a muslin goes beyond its old-world, romantic appearance. Because it’s made of cotton, a muslin is washable and responds well to dyes when you want to customize it. The soft, warm look of the cloth slightly wrinkled or ruched will convey a feeling of romance and make for a great-looking background
When photographing teens for senior portraits, or a rock band for marketing shots, or conducting a fashion shoot with an edgy feel, Floor drops are a great choice. Made of rubber and easily transported, they are ideal for both floors and backdrops and are often used together.
Photo Courtesy of Cutting Edge Photography, Featuring: Grunge Brick Floor Drop
Photo Courtesy of Ryan Walsh, Featuring: Grunge Brick Floor Drop
You can choose from sports-themed floor drops to a grungy concrete drop to a variety of aged wood drops. Need to find a worn brick wall? Savage has that too. Floor drops eliminate the need to scout locations for the perfect background, so you can simply stay in the studio and create the look you want without wasting time. Many photographers also combine floor drops with muslins or seamless paper backdrops for a limitless variety of backgrounds.
No matter which backdrop you choose for your next shoot, remember to keep an open mind before making your selection. By relying on your own experience, good eye, and feedback from others, you’ll soon find it second nature to appraise a subject and visualize that perfect backdrop.
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