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White Seamless Tutorial :: Part 5 :: Wrap up, Questions, & Contest!

June 1, 2008 | • Resources • Technique

This is the final part in the white seamless tutorial. If you are just joining this blog, you can find parts one through four listed here. I wanted to end this tutorial with just a few more thoughts on lighting your subject so that you have a few more tricks in the bag.

We have talked about those bi-fold doors on the side of the set to block the background (BG) lights from illuminating the subject (see part 1). You can also use those as big reflectors if you paint them white. Mine are painted white on one side and I keep the natural wood color on the other side so that they can at times be used as a background. Take a look at these two images. These were shot using only the BG lights. 


To bring light around to the front, I positioned the BG lights in such a way that they were not illuminating the subject. I pulled one of the bi-fold doors and a tall piece of foamcore around to the front of Stephanie to act as large reflectors. Those picked up the light coming off of the BG and reflected it back on to the subject. To do this well, you have to bring those reflectors in really close to your subject. They usually end up in my shot but they are an easy thing to remove. 


Still shot the image vertically as you can see so that I can maximize the size of my subject on my image sensor. I simply made a marquee selection around the reflectors, made sure my BG swatch in Photoshop was set to white, and hit the delete key. Whatever is deleted goes to your BG swatch color. Easy peesy! Why did I use one bi-fold door and one foamcore? Um, it is just what I had on hand at that moment. You can use one or the other or whatever. I just want you to be thinking about that background being a large light source that you can then grab some of that light coming off of it and reflect it somewhere else if you need to do so. 

Here is another shot using the same technique. I like the light that it produces and I like the catchlights. 


And, as always, leave a little room around an edge for alternate crops. 


But wait! There’s more! My friend I shoot weddings with, Marc Climie, built two 4’x8′ frames out of 1×2’s and covered them with ripstop nylon. They hang out in the studio and for the following shot I used one 4×8 panel on each side of the frame as main lights on the subject. I shot a light through each one. So that would be four lights. Two on the subject. Two on the background. 


I’ve also used this exact same lighting setup for larger product work… 


For the image above, nailing the ratio of exposure on the subject to the background was critical because I needed to retain some amount of density in the clear acrylic. It took some time getting that set but once it was set, I could move other displays in and out of the set and keep the same lighting and exposure. Also note that it is great shooting on white because you can shoot mulitple angles of the same thing and place them on to one photo quickly and easily. For this type of application set your camera on a tripod so that your angle and perspective to the subject remains constant. 

Speaking of product, all of this stuff I’ve been going on and on and on about lately works for just about anything… 


You can take a sheet of that tile board and put it on top of a table for small product work. I have shot hundreds of small products using this set up. As always, I fill the frame and the expand as needed. For the image above I just used the BG lights. 

I’m a big fan of grid spots and I use them a lot when shooting on white. I also include elements of my set into my photos as well… 


For the image above I used a 10 degree grid to light my brother’s face and I composed my frame to include elements of the set. If you or your client do not want these elements all you have to do is set your BG swatch color to white in Photoshop and select and delete areas or use the eraser tool to remove them. 

Again, I’m a fan of the grid. This is legendary hip hop king, 8 Ball, from Memphis… 


Well, that is pretty much it. That is just about everything I do with a roll of white seamless paper. It seems as though this has been good for many of you. Thank you for taking the time to go through it. 

I am now open to questions! Leave them as a comment here. I will also go through the other seamless posts and pull out questions I haven’t had a chance to reply to yet. I’ll let the questions come in for a week or so and then I’ll make a post with all of them together with the answers. 

Also… Let’s have some fun with this. Go out and start shooting and upload your photos to the Seamless & Cyc group I have started on Flickr. Post as many images as you would like that combine the use of a subject(s) and a white wall, a roll of white seamless, or a cyc wall. I’m going to choose a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winner on August 4th, 2008. Here is what I’m going to put in the prize chest. 

1st Place – A copy of the OneLight DVD coming out soon – OR – a 50″ Westcott Apollo softbox

2nd Place – A copy of the OneLight DVD coming out soon – OR – a 28″ Westcott Apollo softbox

3rd Place – A copy of the OneLight DVD coming out soon. 

2 Honorable Mentions will receive a year pro account on Flickr. 

(Uh… Ahem… if any of you manufactures or service providers have anything you want to throw in the prize chest just let me know! ( zack @ )   

I will place an image in the Seamless & Cyc pool on August 3rd declaring the contest is over. I’m going to choose the winners. I’m the judge, jury, and executioner of this since I’m filling the prize chest out of my own pocket. :) You can enter as many photographs as you want. If I feel something has been entered and it doesn’t belong, I’ll remove it. I will announce the winners August 4th here on the blog. 

So, hit me with questions about all of this in the comments here and I’ll collect them for a week or two and reply to all of them in one post. Thanks for stopping by! Drop suggestions for other tutorials in the comments as well. This has been a lot of fun for me… and more time consuming than I thought it would be… but fun all the same! 

Cheers,  Zack

White Seamless Tutorial :: Part 4 :: Simple Changes In Post Production.


If you are just joining us, this is part four in a multi part tutorial about the many uses of white seamless as a background material. You can catch up by reading part 1, part 2, part 2b, and part 3.

For part four we are going to look at making simple changes to our photos in post production. We are going to change the composition of our photos shot on pure white or pure black. We will also look at a way to add some color back into the background on the images shot on pure white.

The first thing we are going to do is change our composition. When I’m shooting on a pure white or pure black background, I shoot 95% of those images vertically. I fill the frame with my subject as much as I can. I want to maximize the image area they take on the sensor of my camera so that I have more options for enlarging the photo later if I want. If I want a lot of negative space in the final photo, I’ll add that in Photoshop later because it is easy to create white or black space and still have a full frame of the subject. Imagine the area of your camera’s sensor for a moment with the photo above on it as it is captured…


That is a lot of dead space thrown away on your chip. You can maximize the captured resolution of your subject by filling the frame.


There are two simple ways of expanding your photo to change the composition. You can change the canvas size or you can use the crop tool. I prefer the crop tool because it lets me visualize the new composition I’m trying to create. For the example below I want to deliver the vertical full frame shot to the client and I want to deliver a horizontal shot as well. I’m going to keep them set to the same dimensions by locking in my aspect ratio then flipping the width and height numbers. See the photo below.


The crop tool options can be blank if you want so you can free form a crop. Here are the step to expanding it.

1. Make sure the photo is a locked “background” layer.

2. Set the BG color swatch to pure white.

3. Select the crop tool and pull it out over the image. It will not pull out beyond the edges of the photo. Once you hit an edge of the photo LET GO of the mouse button. Some bounding box tick marks will show up on your crop rectangle.

4. Grab one of those bounding box tick marks and begin to pull the crop out past your original image.

5. Once you have the composition you want, hit enter or return to apply the crop. Since your BG swatch is set to white it will become the color of whatever is beyond your original image after it is cropped. Its magic and stuff!




From looking at the next image, you would think I have a massive studio space.


This is how it was done.


Again, the original image was shot vertically to get the most bang for the buck out of my sensor…


We can do the same thing with images shot on a PURE black background.


Going through the same steps as above, I have now just changed the BG color swatch to black instead of white. I have also moved the light source around a bit.



I made a selection around the light then used the move tool to drag it around. With the BG swatch still set to black, it doesn’t make a “hole” in the photo when you move it.


Here again is the final frame after about 20 seconds of work in Photoshop.


That’s the simple simple stuff. Now we’ll add just one more layer to the pure white image to change it up a bit more… I sit with my clients and walk them through a series of changes. I let them know they are getting an image shot vertically but with some simple changes it can go to a larger vertical image for a concert poster or it can go to a horizontal image for a promo card or CD artwork. Here is another thing I show my clients that can change the overall look of the original image. Let’s make a square crop like we are doing CD artwork or something. Here is the original image as shot in camera.


I’ve cropped the image to a square, turned the image into an unlocked layer, and added a new layer underneath the image. I’m going to be making a radial gradient fill on the new layer UNDER the photo.


Turn the photo layer off and select the new layer you made under it. I’ve made my gradient fill and stretched it out a bit. I want a soft white under my subject.


I go back to the photo layer and select it and turn it back on. Then I change the layer blending mode to “multiply”. Anything that is pure white will drop out and the color from behind will show through.


It looks like this.


You can change the color, density, and saturation of this type of gradient fill with levels, curves, hue/saturation, etc. Here is a change up to the bottom layer with hue/saturation.


Here is the image with this change.


This isn’t the way to just drop a subject into a whole new location. You have to get into some layer masking and a few more steps to do something like that. These are just some simple steps to show you how to change things up a bit for images you want to make for your clients or promotional images you need to make for yourself. You can create the perfect amount of negative space to add logos, text, etc. If you are into textures you can then start adding those into some of these steps as well. Using the multiply mode on white backgrounds opens up new possibilities for you. Note – It doesn’t work the same on images with a black background.

For the next post, I’ll show a few lighting options you can have when shooting on pure white backgrounds. After that I’ll have a post asking for questions you may have. I’ll also be going through all the comments on this tutorial so far and answering those questions in one single post.

Then we are going to have a contest! If you are starting to shoot this stuff or have been, you can now begin adding your images to the Seamless & Cyc Flickr pool I have started. Let’s see how creative you get. I’ve filled up the pool with my visual pollution to get it started. You add the rest. I’ll have prizes for first, second, and third place. I’ll give you details on it coming up soon. Add your images that have been shot with any of the techniques we have discussed here when using a simple white background. If you are just using a white wall to start you can post those as well.

Continue Reading :: Part 5 Wrap Up, Questions, and Contest!

ETA – If you have questions about any of this, drop them in the comment section here on Part 5 of the tutorial. I will be following up on this tutorial with a new post answering all the questions at once.

Cheers, Zack

White Seamless Tutorial :: Part 3 :: From White To Black.


If you are just joining us, this is part three in a four or five part tutorial about the many uses of white seamless as a background material.  You can catch up by reading part 1part 2, and part 2b

We’ve taken our white seamless BG and made it pure white.  The task set before us now is to get a few more visual options out of that white seamless paper or simple white wall we are shooting against. 

When I got my first studio space I had few resources to fill it up with backgrounds and stuff that studios should have.  The very first thing I bought was a roll of white seamless paper.  I had to start using it with two lights.  One on the subject and one on the background.  That’s all well and good but I needed to have the ability to get as many looks out of that one background.  These are some of the simple and effective techniques I still use to get some different looks from a single background. 

The first thing you can do is simply turn the background lights off. 


The image above is the same exact photo except for the fact that I turned the BG lights off.  I shot one with the lights on.  Then one with the lights off.  Same settings on my main light and same settings on my camera.  Your white BG is now a medium grey. 

Here is a full length shot with the tile board removed. 


I removed the tile board because it can be a bit difficult to get it to blend seamlessly when you are lighting the BG.  It can be done you just have to finesse your light and shooting angle to the point where you no longer see the edges of the tile board on the floor and maintain a consistent tone of grey while still picking up a bit of reflection under your subject.  Currently I don’t have an example of that on hand.  I’ll dig for one in the archives and post it when I wrap this tutorial up. 

If you can wrap your head around things like inverse square law and feathering your light then you can begin to make that BG any shade of grey from black to light grey. 

Inverse square law is an equation that talks about math stuff about how light falls off over distance.  I’m a photographer.  I like pictures.  I don’t like physics. Inverse square law to me is like that quote about electricity that I’ve heard before… “I don’t know how electricity works but I use it everyday.” 

If you double your distance from flash to subject, you lose 75% of the light.  To me it seems like if you double distance then you lose half of your light but some dudes and some ladies (probably more dudes than ladies though) figured out that is not the case.  You double distance from flash to subject you lose 75% of the light.  Not 50%. 

In Myth Busters type of science that means when you double distance you lose 2 stops of light.  If you double one foot that means you lost two stops of light at the two foot mark.  If you double 20 feet… you lose two stops at the 40 foot mark. 

Let me say this now though… Before any of you get on here with your Texas Instruments graphing calculators to show me where I’m wrong on this… Take it to DPReview and fight it out there with the other measurebators.  I don’t care!  Like I said, this is some Myth Busters kind of science explanations. 

With a point light source like a straight flash it looks like this… 


From f22 to f16 that is 7 inches.  From f5.6 to f4 that is 3.5 feet.  If your subject was standing where the f22 tick mark on the wall is and the white seamless BG was over there by the 5.6 tick mark then by the time you expose properly for the subject at f22 then your BG would be (16, 11, 8, 5.6) FOUR stops under exposed from your subject. 

Here’s the basics that a public school educated guy like me can understand.  If you get your subject some distance away (like 10 feet let’s say)  from the BG and your light source really close to the subject (like 1 or 2 feet away) then once you properly expose for the subject…. the light falling off toward the BG falls off to the point that your BG can be 2 or 3 stops under exposed from the subject.  The more you under expose the BG the darker it gets. 

Again… The larger your ratio of exposure is from your subject to BG the darker the BG gets.  The smaller the ratio gets, the lighter the BG.  

Huh?  What?  Yeah, I know.  It looks like this without any use of Photoshop. 


I’m going to post that same photo right after this explanation… 

For these two images I kept the subject the same distance from the BG.  He was about ten feet from the wall there.  For the image on the left the softbox was about 5 feet away from him.  Exposure on him was f2 or something.  Then I moved it in really really close.  Just outside of the frame.  Once I closed down my aperture to compensate for the light being much closer to him, the light ratio between his face and the wall was now a larger ratio thus making the BG darker. 


Still don’t get it?  Reading my explanation over again won’t help much because I think it confuses me as well so let me try to sum it up another way.  All you engineers out there are laughing your butts off at me because this stuff is elementary.  Like I said, I went to public school. 

Get your subject about 10 feet off of a wall and get your light source 7 or 8 feet away from your subject in a position that light is hitting your subject AND your background.  Make a proper exposure for the light hitting your subject and look at the white BG.  It will be a lighter shade of grey. 

Keep your subject right there and more your light in really, really close to your subject.  Like one foot away (just outside of your frame).  You have now changed the exposure so you are going to have to stop down your aperture until you have a proper exposure on your subject.  Once you have the proper exposure on your subject, that white BG will now be a darker shade of grey than image you shot before with the light 7 or 8 feet away. 

If you are reading this and don’t get it… Get off your arse and go shoot it.  You’ll see it pretty quickly. 

You can further eliminate light falling on the BG to get the BG to go darker and darker still until you just “blow it to black” as I like to say.  Or, you make dark with light.  I typically do this with feathering my light and getting my subject even further away from the background. 

When you “feather” a light you are positioning your light in such a way that it isn’t pointing directly at your subject.  Instead, it is pointing a little bit away from subject yet not pointed so far away that you are no longer lighting your subject.  You are just wanting the subject to catch the feathered edge of light coming out of your modifier.  Point that light AWAY from the BG yet still getting some on your subject. 

If you tweak your feathered light just right and have a good distance from your BG then you can take that white seamless (or just about any other color of BG) and it will become black. 

Here is a four light set.   


Two lights on the BG, one light with a grid to light his arm, one light zoomed in to light his face.  Here is what it looks like on white… 


Remember how I talked about my philosophy in all of this is I light my subject independently from my BG?  With my lights on my subject set up properly, those lights aren’t adding any exposure to my BG.  So if I turn the BG lights off and just use that tight grid and a zoomed Vivitar 285 I get this… 


I did NOT change the white background out for a black one!  I pinky promise!  I just kept that grid and that zoomed light positioned in a way that none of that light hit the BG. NOTE – I’m staying at my sync speed on my shutter speed to make sure I’m killing any and all ambient light falling on the BG. Shutter speed controls ambient light. Even though there was light in the studio when I was shooting, I was shooting at f8 at 250th of a second or there about so I wasn’t exposing any ambient light in these images with black backgrounds. 


For the image above she was about 15 to 16 feet away from the BG.  I had a big softbox pointing just in front of her.  Enough for the feathered edge to light her.  Then I had a second light add a bit of a side light for separation making sure that the side light did not hit the background. 

Grid spots are awesome.  You can use those things to keep light off of any BG you may be using like this… 


Grid spots have a small feathered edge of light.  You can point the main circle of light in front of your subject and just get their face into that feathered edge and it looks like this… 


You can grid a subject again, add a background light pointing toward your subject and get this… 


You can take a big ol’ softbox, move your subject away from the BG as much as possible (like 15 feet or so), under expose the whole thing just a bit and get this… 


Take it light grey… 


Take it darker… 


Set your BG lights to a low power setting and get them evenly positioned on the BG and match the BG exposure with the subject exposure and get a very even tone of grey through an image… 


Position your light in just the right spot where you get just a bit of separation from dark shirt or hair to a darker BG… 


Keep the light on your subject but OFF of your white BG so that the BG goes black.  Then double or triple stack some colored gels on your BG lights and set them to a fairly low power setting and you can now add color to your white BG… 


IF you let the clean white light from the subject light hit the BG when you are trying to gel it to a color, then you are going to contaminate that gelled color back there and you’ll lose the saturation of the color you are trying to achieve.  I used a grid spot in the image above to keep light just on the subject and off of the BG.  I kept him far enough away from the BG that the red light from the BG didn’t wrap around him and give me some funky color shift on the subject. 

White.  Grey.  Black.  Red.  Blue.  Whatever.  One background.  Many options. 

The next tutorial will be about what we can do with some of these images in post production.  I’ll show you things I do in 30 to 60 seconds of time that changes things up even more. After that I’ll post a few different lighting techniques for lighting your subject on the white seamless.  Then I’ll have a post where I’ll be open to questions in the comment section and I’ll cover the questions already in the comment section now. 

Then I’ve got something fun for us after that and that will conclude this tutorial!  You can expect for this to be all wrapped up this month.  My schedule is a bit hectic right now. 

Continue reading :: Part 4 :: Simple Changes In Post Production. 

ETA – If you have questions about any of this, drop them in the comment section here on Part 5 of the tutorial. I will be following up on this tutorial with a new post answering all the questions at once.

Cheers, Zack

White Seamless Tutorial :: Part 2b :: Full Length With OneLight


I felt challenged today to see if I could shoot a full length portrait on a plain old white seamless background with a single battery powered light source. There is this thing I do with barebulb flashes that blows the background to white and I use an adjoining wall near the subject to catch light from the bare bulb to bounce back to light the subject’s face. The problem with trying to do a full length with a single light source is dealing with the light stand getting in the way. Positioning it out of the frame is a pain. You say four letter “f” words (like film) trying to keep the light stand out of the way and lighting the walls and trying to keep light from the flash off of the wall (edit – I mean subject). 

The challenge I gave myself today was to shoot without a light stand. I figured I would try placing the bare bulb flash on the ground behind my client and use those bi-fold cutter doors as reflectors to catch the light from the flash and bounce it back to the front of the subject. I taped the Sunpak 120J and Pocket Wizard with white tape to further conceal the rig in case I was in the frame. The challenge was to not have to remove anything in Photoshop.Here is the taped rig… 


Here is the result…


Not bad really. A little flare around the ankles that is giving me a color shift on the legs. I can live with that and “fix” it if needed. Better than trying to remove light stands from photos. Here’s another shot with the same lighting scenario… 


It was a slight PITA keeping separation of her light hair on the white BG. Just a hair of the “fill” slider in Lightroom helped bring the exposure of her face up. Here is wider shot showing a bit of the bi-fold doors acting as reflectors… 


I was out of time so I didn’t try the same scenario with the tile board. I’ll try that another time. 

There is another way of doing this with a single light source but you need more power than four double “A” batteries and a pretty dang large light source. I’ll shoot one of those when I get back from my week teaching OneLight’s in California. 

Speaking of that, I have to be at the airport in seven hours. I’ll be working on the next part of this seamless tutorial on the plane. 

On a side note… 

Fellow photographer and all around amazing guy, Troy Stains, stopped by today while we were shooting. I have to share this image I shot of him. He’s pimp.  This was part of our shooting for the OneLight DVD coming out this summer. 


Continue Reading :: Part 3 :: From White To Black.  

ETA – If you have questions about any of this, drop them in the comment section here on Part 5 of the tutorial. I will be following up on this tutorial with a new post answering all the questions at once.

Cheers,  Zack

White Seamless Tutorial :: Part 2 :: Setting Lights & Exposure


UPDATE – Moved servers and lost these old images. I’ll be doing a new series on white seamless. Sorry! 

We are now going to look at setting up a simple headshot on a pure white seamless background, or, “BG” for short during this tutorial. Click here for Part 1 of this tutorial.

The philosophy I have when shooting on pure white is that I want to light the BG and the subject independently from each other. Meaning; The light on the subject isn’t making a change to the exposure on the background and the light on the background isn’t making a change to exposure on the subject. As I talked about before, those cutters on the sides of the set are key to making this happen. The next consideration is keeping the subject a fair distance away from the background as well. In this first example my subject, Thomas, is about 11 feet away from the white seamless hanging behind him. The closer he gets to the background, the more likely it is that light reflecting off of the seamless is going to add exposure to him in the final image. The further I get my subject away from the seamless, the less light coming in from the background will get to him. I’ll talk more about that specifically in a bit.

For the sake of being as technical as possible for this tutorial I have wiped the dust off of my light meter and put it back into use. I rarely, if ever, pull it out when setting up this type of set simply because I’ve done it so often and I know what I’m looking for when I chimp. If you have a flash meter already, good for you! Pull it out and put it in the incident mode. If not, I’m going to give you examples of the visual clues I am looking for when I’m shooting so I know how to adjust my lights without using a flash meter.

For this set up I have two lights on the background. One on each side. I also have barn doors on these lights in addition to using the bi-fold cutters. Since my ceiling in here is so low and those white walls are so close to the set I use the barn doors to flag light from the BG lights off of the ceiling and walls. The light on camera left is pointing just left of center of the BG. Camera right light is just right of center of the BG. I want an even spread of light across the BG so that if I were to take meter readings from the left edge to the right edge of the seamless, I would get identical readings from edge to edge. If your BG is within a quarter stop from edge to edge you’ll be fine. If your BG has more than half a stop difference from edge to edge, position your lights in such a way to even that exposure out. If you don’t have a light meter, eyeball the dang thing and go for it.

For those of you new to lighting I am only going to be talking about exposure in terms of f stops. Shutter speed controls ambient light exposure and aperture (f stop) controls flash exposure. The ambient light in this scenario means nothing to me since I’m lighting everything with flash so my shutter speed is always going to be near my sync speed of 250th of a second. If you don’t know your sync speed you’ll have to RTFM. If you don’t know what RTFM is then you’ll have to Google that and ROFL. If you are lost on ROFL… how did you even get to this web page? Colon right parenthesis.

Also, these are always shot at my lowest ISO setting so that I have the cleanest images. No need to shoot this stuff at high ISO settings especially if you have some decent power coming from your strobes. If you are doing this with hotshoe flashes there can be occasions you need to up your ISO a bit.

For the subject I have one light source. For this particular shot I’m using a Westcott 50″ Apollo softbox. The light inside of the softbox is set to 100 w/s (watt seconds). For the pure white BG it doesn’t really matter what kind of modifier you use. Like I said, I’m lighting my subject independently from the BG so I choose my modifier based on the kind of light I want on the subject. You can use straight flash, an umbrella, a grid spot, a beauty dish, etc, etc. Actually, my favorite these days is a beauty dish. I just love that thing but for this, I chose a big softbox.

From my meter I’m getting a reading on my subject of f8 from that softbox (main light). To make that white BG pop I know that I need to have the BG at least 1.5 stops hotter than the subject. My target then is to get the BG reading to be f 11.5 because my main light on the subject is f 8. I’m going to expose for the subject at f 8 once I shoot a frame. I don’t really want the BG to be any more than 1.5 stops hotter than the subject’s reading. You’ll see why in the examples below. f 8 on the subject and f 11.5 on the BG is my standard set up. You can set the ratio anyway you want it. If your main is f 2.8 then you want the reading on your BG to be f 4.5. If you get f 5.6 on your subject then you want the BG to be at f 8.5. Nerd note – If the EXIF data is still in these images and you’re reading it you’ll see I actually exposed at f 9. My meter is about 1/3 of a stop off from my camera.

Let’s look at a properly exposed image first ::


In the image above I have a nice white background, no significant amount of flare coming back into the lens, no chromatic aberration (CA) around the edges or in the hair, a good exposure on Thomas, and I’m getting just a bit of “wrap” on the shadowed side of his face.

For that “back of head” reading I took my meter and placed it at the back of his head and pointed it toward the white seamless and took a reading. This is measuring the amount of light coming back to the subject from the BG. The more light coming back, the more wrap, and possibly more flare, you are going to have on your subject. That “wrap” is seen as a highlight on the camera left side of his face. That is coming from the light reflecting off of the white seamless. Some folks HATE wrap and work to eliminate it. Some folks like to have more of it. Personally I go both ways. Country AND Western.

There are times I want it eliminated. Maybe I want a really deep shadow on the side of the subject’s face. Lighting wrapping in from the back would fill that shadow in too much. Another example of the need to eliminate the light wrapping around your subject is when you are shooting someone wearing pure white. I want to keep a very clean separation of white on white. We’ll see that coming up in a minute. Sometimes I love to have more wrap because it accentuates the subject’s facial features. Most of the time though I’m fine with just a bit of it. The wrap above is something I won’t say cuss words about and I won’t lose any sleep tonight because of it.

If you want less wrap, move your subject further away from the BG but keep the same 1.5 stop exposure ratio from subject light to BG light. If you want more wrap, move your subject closer to the BG while still maintaining the 1.5 stop exposure ratio.

For those of you without a flash meter here are some examples showing you when your BG lights are over or under exposed. These are shown with the idea of you have a good exposure from your main light on your subject. Find that exposure first by turning off your BG lights and shooting a series of images of your subject with just the main light on. Remember, we are lighting the subject independently from the BG. If you have this set up correctly then you can take a shot at the proper exposure of your subject with the BG lights off and then with them on and your subject will remain properly exposed in both images with the exception of some wrap coming in from the BG when those lights are turned on. Make sense? No? Shoot pictures with your BG lights off and find the right exposure on your subject from the main light. Then turn on your background lights and adjust the power of those up or down to get a clean white BG.

Here is an example of when your BG gets too hot and starts giving you problems.


I had set my main light on my subject and got a reading of f 8 from it. With my BG lights cranked all the way up to full power I’m now getting so much light off of that BG that it added a stop to the meter reading of my subject. I suspect that the face of my softbox was even acting as a reflector to help add to that extra stop of light coming in the front. Looking at the image above it is pretty evident that the BG lights are set too high in power. Look at all the flare coming in over his shoulder on the camera left side of the frame and look at the overall loss in contrast in the image. I talked in the previous post about some lenses work better than others. My 50mm 1.8 lens shoots images that look like this on a properly exposed set. So if you are dead sure confident that your light ratios are correct and you get that much flare and loss of contrast, try another lens.

Here is an image with the BG underexposed.


There is nothing wrong with the image above here. In fact, you may want some density in your BG from time to time and we are going to talk about that in the next part of the tutorial. BUT… we are talking about setting your BG exposure properly to get a PURE WHITE background in your image and that BG ain’t white. If that is your image and you want it white, the curse words show up in post production. If this is what you are getting then you simply need to up the power settings of your background lights.

Two additional things to look at in this under exposed BG image :: Notice the lack or wrap coming in from the BG and how much darker the shadow on the camera left side of his face is. Also notice that my lights aren’t set to give me a dead even exposure across the width of the BG there. One side is a bit hotter than the other. Each light is set exactly to the same power setting but the camera left side is a bit hotter than the camera right side. This is a visual indication that I need to change the position and/or direction of my BG lights so I’m getting even light across the BG. It isn’t that big of difference here. But it is noticeable and there are times when I want density in that BG and I want it to be perfect from edge to edge in continuous tone. Again, we’ll talk about that in the next part of the tutorial.

Once you nail your exposure and everything is set correctly, you can shoot someone wearing a black shirt on a white background and have them switch to a white shirt on a white background and shoot the same exact exposure and maintain separation.


Let’s take a look at a series of images with the lights in different states of being on or off.


See that second image in the series where there is a tad bit of light hitting the front of Thomas? That is light coming off of the BG, hitting the ceiling, and adding a slight touch of exposure to the front. If I had taller ceilings and / or my ceiling was black, I would have more of a silhouette there. I’m seriously considering painting my ceiling black but I haven’t decided if I really want to stay in the space beyond my lease. I want a cyc wall again damn it and I’m not going to build one here! Anyway……

Also notice the “all lights off”. I wasn’t shooting in pitch black but an exposure of f 9 @ 200th of a second at ISO 100 made a black frame because the studio is not that dark but not bright enough to have any ambient exposure come into the final frames I’m shooting. If I had some really hot spot lights on the BG or a bright window near my set we may see a little something in that image but not much. Once those strobes fire it would kill that kind of ambient light. So changing your shutter speed all up and down here doesn’t matter. Just set to your sync speed and adjust exposure on your camera by aperture only. You further change exposure by changing power settings on your lights…. but to reiterate. At camera level… set to your sync speed and just adjust f stops.

So that’s a basic headshot. You don’t have to have a roll of seamless for this application. Any old white or off white wall will do. Let’s look at a full length next. I’m going to cry 7 tears and say 3 or 4 cuss words as I visually take you back to my last studio with the big cyc wall. That thing was bigger than my house. Developers came in and bought the place up and I can have it again in a few years at 3 or 4 times the cost per square foot once they pimp the place out and do stupid things to it. Like… Bring it up to code and stuff and take the lead out of the water.

I pull this off in the new space pretty easy until I have a band of 4 or more in front of me and I’m restricted to the 9′ width of white. It can be done with only moderate cursing. I’ve shot a family of 7 on a 9′ seamless before. For now let’s look at just shooting a full length of one person. Here is the back of the set.


This is what the back of the set looks like. Notice that straight shadow line the bi-folds are making. I keep my subject in “the shade” of the bi-fold doors so to speak. Also note that I hang the tile board out into the BG light area just a bit. The BG lights blow that little edge out so it isn’t seen in the final image and I don’t have to go into Photoshop to remove the hair line it creates if I don’t have it hanging out in the BG light.

Here is the front of the set.


Note that without that tile board, the white floor area is grey. Getting a subject standing on white paper and shooting a full length shot so that the floor and the BG are all white is a pain in the arse. You can do it but it’s a different way of lighting that I just don’t do. Call me lazy but $20 worth of tile board makes life easy. And no… those Home Depot work lights in the back are not being used on this set. This is three lights firing. Two on the background and one on the subject.

Let’s add a subject and a big industrial fan.


I show the image above to give you another glimpse of what the floor would look like without the tile board. It would be grey right up to the shadow line the cutters are creating from the BG lights. The tile board acts like a mirror in that you are seeing a reflection of the white BG in it.

Here is an image straight out of camera with only adjustments being made to color and contrast.


Clean. Simple. Effective. Done right on set and in camera so I don’t have to cuss like a sailor in post production. Notice the good separation of the white dress on the white background. Notice the nice little wrap on the camera right side of her face. I really like the wrap here and would not have worked to eliminate it. It was just enough to have some wrap but not enough that I lost the edge separation of the dress.

That wraps up Part 2 of the tutorial. Thanks to Thomas for being my exposure subject today and thanks to ya’ll for the comments and links and all that so far! Once I finish this tutorial I’ve got something kind of cool planned for all of you.

Continue reading – Part 2b :: Full Length With OneLight

ETA – If you have questions about any of this, drop them in the comment section here on Part 5 of the tutorial. I will be following up on this tutorial with a new post answering all the questions at once.

Cheers, Zack

White Seamless Tutorial :: Part 1 :: Gear & Space

white seamless

UPDATE – I know the image links are broken. Moved to a new server and something went wrong with these posts. It’s been awhile since I posted this and I don’t have the web images anywhere. It’s time to redo this series anyway so I’ll be working on that.

Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts, and countless other great photographers have rocked the white background for decades. I recently went to a huge bookstore here in Atlanta and counted the number of magazine covers shot with a simple white background like we are going to investigate here. 87 COVERS SHOT ON WHITE OR A VARIATION OF A WHITE BACKGROUND. Eighty-seven magazine covers at one book store. Its everywhere and it is everywhere because it is simple and effective and makes your subjects pop. It beats the bloody hell out of any wrinkled up grey/blue/brown muslin any day of the week. Walk into a Target store this week and look at the in-store signage. How did I learn to shoot like this? Because this is how we shot JC Penney’s catalogue clearance images when I shot for them. Need to add text and other artwork to a photo? A simple white background lets you do so all day long.

If I had but one backdrop to use for portraiture I would choose a simple roll of white seamless paper. With one roll of paper you can create many options. For the rest of the week I’m going to break it down for you. We are going to look at getting it to pop to pure white, making it various shades of grey, getting it to go black, gelling it to any color in the rainbow, and doing very easy and quick changes in post production to further the visual options available to us when using such a simple background.

As simple as it is, it can be easy to mess up too. I hope to help you out like other photographers have helped me along the way.Before we get into the shooting technique for this, let’s start from the start and look at the gear and resources needed to pull this off.

1. Space Considerations :: The more room you have the less bad words will come out of your mouth. A 20×20′ room with 10′ or higher ceilings is a great place to start. You can do it with less but you’ll have more challenges to face and make this more of a pain in the arse then it needs to be. Trying this in a spare bedroom with 8′ ceilings is going to drive you mad and you’ll sound like the dad in A Christmas Story as he worked on the furnace. You can do it… you’ll just use more cuss words doing so. A hard floor surface is desired. Plush carpeting will bring more cursing. If you are doing this on carpet, lay down an 8’x8′ foundation of 1/2″ plywood so you have something sturdy for your subjects to stand on.

My current studio allows me to have a space that is about 15′ wide by 40′ in length. I really wish I had 20′ in width. I would say 80% less cuss words if my area was wider. My ceilings are about 11′ in height and I wish they were 14′ but you do what you can with what you have. My old studio had a cyc wall that was 20′ wide by 40′ long with 14′ ceilings and I never ever said a single bad word when lighting a set.

BTW – Cyc is short for “cyclorama”. Also known as an infinity wall. Think of it as a permanent roll of seamless paper from floor to ceiling that can be painted over and over again. They are worth every bit of the few thousands of dollars they cost to have built properly. You only want one built if you know for sure you will be in your space for a long time because you’ll never want to leave it.

2. Lights :: Three lights are pretty much the minimum you are going to need for this. They’ll do everything you need to have done for the most part. 95% of my pure white background images are shot with 3 lights. I don’t care what kind of lights they are. 3 Alien Bees, 3 Travelites, 3 Norman heads, 3 Canon 580’s, 3 Nikon SpeedLites, whatever. I will say that you want more power than less for much of this. You can pull it off with hotshoe flashes but you’ll use 47% more cuss words with small flashes as opposed to more powerful strobes like Alien Bees or Dynalites etc. You can rock the pure white with OneLight and/or two lights but if you want to make life better and your studio to be more of a PG rated environment, go with three lights.

3. Seamless, stands, and misc. grip gear :: You are going to need to 2 solid stands to hold your 9′ wide roll of seamless paper up. You’ll need a sturdy crossbar to go through the roll of paper that gives you at least 3 inches of room on each side of the roll. You can use a 10′ long section of 1.5″ PVC pipe from Home Depot or the like. I then use super clamps to attach the pole to the stands. The following links will take you to B&H.

Savage 107″ (9 feet wide) white seamless paper. :: $40 :: You don’t have to have “super white”. A light, light grey can work as well but just plain ol’ white will do it. Try to find it locally as shipping can sometimes cost more than the seamless. It is heavy stuff. Also note – Store your seamless paper standing up. DO NOT store your seamless laying flat on the ground. If you store it flat you will get ripples through the whole roll eventually.

Avenger 10.8′ light stands or the 12.8′ version. :: $78 ea. for the 10′ and $84 ea. for the 12′ :: You’ll need two stands to hold your seamless.

Matthews Super clamps (you need two of them) :: $27 each.

OR… Just buy a background support kit like this Impact set-up. For $99 you get 2 stands, a crossbar that fits on the stands, and a bag to carry it in. I prefer using stronger stands, super clamps, and metal cross bars but a kit will work for you. You get what you pay for though. Cheaper support kits are going to give you more problems. Pick up two sandbags ($22 each) to help keep the whole thing grounded.

1 or 2 A clamps :: $4 each :: You need these to hold the paper on the roll once you have rolled it out. Get a good roll of gaffer tape as well. Don’t be so ghetto that you cheap out and use duct tape. Have a little dignity and use some good industry standard tape!

3. Cutters / Flags / Gobos and tile board :: When we set up to go with a pure white background in our photo we want 2 lights on the background and we don’t want that light to spill on to our subject directly from the strobes. We need some sort of cutter/flag to keep the subject from being lit by those lights hitting the white seamless. You can score a 4×8 sheet of 1/4″ foam core down the vertical center to stand them up. I used those for a long time but they fall over easily. I have now moved to using 2 bi-fold doors that I bought at Home Depot for $20 each. I painted one side of each set white. You can use barn doors on your strobes or whatever. You just want to make darn sure that the light from the strobes hitting the background DOES NOT directly hit your subject. Using tall cutters like the bi-fold doors makes things much easier on you.

Tile Board :: $11 per 4×8′ sheet at Home Depot. This stuff rocks. This is going to give you a nice white floor and a reflection under your subject. You need a few sheets of it. Check out the photo below to get the exact stock number. You can find it at Lowes as well. You’ll find these either in the area where they keep paneling or in the bath fixtures department as it is used to wall in showers and bathrooms. You want the pure white smooth kind. They have some that has a bit of a pebbled texture to it. Don’t bother with that stuff. It is brown on the back side which actually photographs beautifully as a background when thrown a bit out of focus. Its a floor! Its a background! Make the most out of what you have!

Here is a photo of the basic set up for going pure white.


And here is the tile board you want to get…


Here is the Super Clamp attached to a light stand and holding the cross bar.


Setting up the seamless is going to be the biggest pain in the arse for you. Get it on the stands about face level and roll it out to the floor until it starts to roll back on itself on the floor. Roll out as much slack as you can but don’t allow it to wrinkle or crease. Attach an “A” clamp to the roll and crossbar to keep it from rolling out any more. Extend one stand up a bit. Then go to the other side and extend that up a bit. Then go back to the other side and extend that up a bit. Rinse and repeat until you get the roll all the way to the ceiling. Having another person makes it MUCH easier. You’ll make sailors blush if you are doing this on your own. It could be an olympic sport really.

Get on a ladder and let out some more paper from the top and pull it out toward and lightly tape it to the floor. Let out some more paper and pull it back some more. Crap. Not only is it a pain to do, it is a pain to describe. If any of you can’t wrap your head around the set-up, I’ll shoot a little video on it or something.

Here is the “A” clamp holding the paper from rolling out any more.


DO NOT just let your seamless sit up there without being clamped. When that stuff starts to unroll on it’s own, you’ll just want to jump off a bridge at that point. Trust me. I know.

One last thing on gear notes here…

Lens Choice :: When you start shooting into the background when you have lit up like a roman candle you will find that one lens may perform better than another in this situation. When you light that white background you are essentially shooting INTO a very large light source. You can run into all sorts of flare and chromatic aberration (CA) problems with some lenses. I know that my Nikon 35mm f2 and my Nikon 105mm f2 lenses perform really well for this. My Nikon 50mm 1.8 looks like butt. Ugly butt. It is worthless when shooting on a pure white background due to flare and CA and it adds a big ugly purple spot right in the dead center of the photo. A Nikon 50mm 1.4 holds up much better. My 80-200 f2.8 also looks horrible. My 85 f1.8 does “ok” but it isn’t that great. You’ll just need to test a few of your lenses for this. You may find that a zoom works better at one end of the focal length than the other.

That wraps up Part 1 of this tutorial.

Next, I will be talking about setting up the lights and finding your exposure without a light meter. A light meter sure does help for this but I rarely, if ever, pull the light meter out simply because I have shot this stuff so many times I have my formula worked out.

Continue Reading – Part 2 :: Setting Lights And Exposure

ETA – If you have questions about any of this, drop them in the comment section here on Part 5 of the tutorial. I will be following up on this tutorial with a new post answering all the questions at once.

Cheers, Zack

All Of These Are Just Like The Others…

April 29, 2008 | • Resources • Technique

There is a common theme in all of these photos.  They were all shot with the same background.  Check back in through the week because I’m going to show you how it is done.

Photo technique by Zack Arias 

Photo technique by Zack Arias

Photo technique by Zack Arias

Photo technique by Zack Arias

Photo technique by Zack Arias

Photo technique by Zack Arias

Photo technique by Zack Arias

Photo technique by Zack Arias

Photo technique by Zack Arias

Cheers, Zack

TTV Technique – "Through The Viewfinder"

Here is how I shot the images from the previous two posts.  It is a technique called “Through The Viewfinder” or TTV for short.


My friend and fellow shooter, Kevin Abeyta (pictured above), came over the other day and picked up an old camera I had laying around as decoration and asked if I had seen the TTV work people were doing with these old cameras.  I had no idea what he was talking about.  He told me to search for it on Flickr.  That search turned up a ton of hits.

So you take an old twin lens camera that can be found for a few bucks at flea markets, thrift stores, ebay, etc. and shoot the viewfinder of the camera.

TTV by Zack Arias

This would work a lot better if I had a macro lens.  This was shot with my 35mm f2.  Then you can just crop out the rest of the frame….

TTV by Atlanta Headshot Photographer Zack Arias  

This is the set up with the ghetto Lego box put around the camera and lens to cut out light falling in the viewfinder…

TTV photography by Zack Arias - Atlanta editorial photographer 

Like I said, I am late to the game. Check out this Flickr group. There are currently more than 3,000 members who have contributed over 21,000 TTV images into this particular pool.

Check out this variation of TTV.

There you have it. Look for these old camera that have a good amount of mold and fungus and crap in the viewfinder to add texture to the images.

Cheers, Zack

Shoot Through Umbrella vs. Softbox

A great question was raised today on OSP about choosing a modifier. Lauren (Top 100 WPJA photographer! Congrats!) was asking about the difference between brolly box modifiers and softboxes. I thought I would take a minute to show the difference between the two and why one might be chosen over another in certain shooting situations.

I will talk about them with the idea that you would be shooting with one of these modifiers indoors because that is where you really see the difference between modifiers. You can’t feather light off the sky! Also note that my “science” is Myth Busters science. It’s pretty close and has been based on “pretty good” observations from real world shooting. If someone wants to chime in with math equations knock yourself out!

Let’s look at the brolly box first. This type of modifier is basically a shoot through umbrella with a cover on the back to keep light from reflecting out of it.

Brolly box vs. softbox A brolly box or shoot through umbrella produces very soft light and spreads it throughout the environment you are shooting in. They are great for producing soft light on your subjects. They are also a better option for shooting groups of 4 or more people since they deliver light over a lager area. If your shoot through umbrella or brolly box is in between you and your subject you have to watch out for flare coming into your lens. It’s a large bright light source that can shoot right back into your lens.

The next image is a medium sized softbox. About 2×3 feet. It is the discontinued Westcott Apollo RL3.

softbox vs. brolly box

This medium sized softbox is a great modifier for shooting 1 to 2 people. It will cover about 3/4’s of the body and you’ll see a bit of light falling off around the thigh to shin area if you are shooting a full length portrait. Shooting more than 2 people next to each other with this modifier isn’t a good idea. You would have to back it off so far that you lose the quality of light you are looking to achieve by using a softbox in the first place.

A softbox produces a beautiful diffused light but is more directional in nature. It is the modifier I choose if I am wanting to keep light on the subject but control the amount of light falling into the environment I’m shooting in. A softbox is much easier to feather light onto or off of a subject or area of environment.

Remember that the differences between these two modifers does not make one better than the other. They are just different and you use one over the other based on which one is going to modify light for the specific purpose of the photography you are trying to create. If I wanted to add a large soft light on a subject as well as use that light source to fill the room I’m shooting in, I would choose the shoot through / brollly box option. If I need to keep light falling on the subject more than the environment I would choose the softbox. If I am shooting a large group of people and need that light to cover a large area so everyone is evenly lit, I go to the brolly. The softbox above is not the size you need to shoot 4 or more people.

It is very difficult to pick one over the other. If I had to pick just one, I would start with a softbox because they require more of an investment to purchase one. A 60″ shoot through umbrella like the one pictured above can be had for $40 or so bucks so it is easy to add that to your bag of tricks later.

If you have any other questions about these two modifiers, just drop ’em in the comment box!

Cheers, Zack

PS – Should go without saying… Brollys give you round catch lights in the eyes. Softboxes give you square catch lights. Always watch the catch lights in photos and it will give you a hint as to what type of modifier was used.

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