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


  • John Larkin said on May 1, 2008

    Come on! You are killing me. I have hit refresh on this page wanting an update more than I have on my bank page waiting for my tax rebate to show up.

  • Jason said on May 1, 2008

    John, that is toooo funny!

  • rob Jaudon said on May 1, 2008

    Zach, Thank you so much for the guides. I am trying to move into shooting a white background and this is going to help out a ton.

    Rob Jaudon

  • Craig said on May 1, 2008

    I just happened upon you site and I am looking forward to today’s post!


  • Wade Heninger said on May 1, 2008

    Loved the suggestion of the paneling for the floor. I’ve been wanting to do something for this for along time as I keep ruining seamless 😉

    Thanks for the great ideas.

  • Justin Evidon said on May 1, 2008

    Excellent post – extremely informative and useful. Keep them coming!

  • kari said on May 1, 2008

    This tutorial is great Zack! Thanks!

  • Craig said on May 1, 2008

    Wow, really helpful. Your post goes beyond the superficial and actually addresses most of the problems I have had (and I am guessing others, as well) when shooting on white backgrounds. Thanks a ton. Semicolon right-parenthesis.

  • zack said on May 1, 2008

    Thanks Craig. The whole “stand your subject here and set your lights up to stuff and there you have it” never gets anyone too far down the road! SRP back at ya!


  • Kara said on May 1, 2008

    Gosh, I miss that studio. Great blog entries, man. Now to get me gear, right?

  • Gerald said on May 1, 2008

    Dude. I can’t tell you how flipping excited I am right now! If Home Depot were still open I would be there right now spending money instead of commenting on this post…
    It warms my heart to know that I will be cursing less in the future because of what you have shared! I am looking forward to the rest.


  • andy said on May 1, 2008


    Google it is so last year it’s now JFGI…

    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 JFGI that and ROFL. If you are lost on ROFL… how did you even get to this web page? Colon right parenthesis.

  • Syd said on May 1, 2008

    Zack, thx for this series of tutorials.

    Could you add a list of the lights, stands equip that you’ve used so we can see what it would take to equip a studio to similar spec?

  • Graham said on May 2, 2008

    Zack, As a graphic designer working with photographers, I didn’t think this was even possible, I have always had to use a clipping path to get this effect. You have opened my eyes to the right way to do this, thank you.
    I’ll be selecting photographers differently from now on.

  • Hillary said on May 2, 2008

    Love the tutorial so far. I have a request for the next tutorial: “How to get your boss to get you a bigger studio space.”

  • zack said on May 2, 2008

    Oh Graham, you tortured soul! Clipping paths can be hell!

    I know a photographer in Atlanta who would be more than happy to work with you! Wink wink. Nudge nudge.

    I get a lot of referral work from designers because I shoot with them in mind. I know all the stuff you have to do once you have photos in hand. As a photographer, I feel it is part of my job to shoot well to make your job easier. The last thing I want is to have a designer cursing my photos after they spend a few hours “fixing” them for print design.


  • Bruce said on May 2, 2008

    Zack – thanks for the great tutorial and the laughs along the way. The white board is running $16 per sheet in Portland OR. Needless to say, there are fewer sheets on the stack at Home Depot. I’m looking forward to your lessons on adapting this setup for different effects. Thanks again

  • K.C. Larsen said on May 2, 2008

    This is all awesome stuff. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. Someday I’d like to see you do this in person.

  • Jeff said on May 2, 2008

    Thanks for this great series! Hmmm… I wonder if my wife will let me paint our family room black! :)

  • Mark Adams said on May 2, 2008


    This is super helpful. Way to make it so easy to understand. Now, can I borrow your studio :)

  • Peter Bang said on May 2, 2008


    I cannot even begin to tell you how awesome it is that you’re sharing such valuable information! You da Man! Thank you, thank you!

  • Jamie said on May 2, 2008

    You rock… This is the best info ever. I had one of those Ahhh moments today. Thank You!

  • Christopher Grisanti said on May 2, 2008

    Thanks, Zack.
    I’m going to look for one of those dilapidated warehouses with lead in the water and high ceilings. My workspace is cool, but intimate. Need to stretch out a bit and lay down some white tile board. It’s so white I can taste it!

  • Erica said on May 2, 2008

    Great blog. I glad I stumbled across it as I was wanting to learn how to do the white seamless. The way you have communicated the instructions in writing and images is very well done! I hope to come to a workshop sometime. Cheers!

  • KellyT said on May 3, 2008

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! I found your site via Photolovecat.com, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this tutorial. I have spent my fair share of time cursing trying to get my floor as white as my background. Your tutorial is a lifesaver.

    Come up to Alpharetta anytime…we have a big ass cyc wall up here. :)

  • Tammy said on May 3, 2008


    You’ve changed my life.

    I have to go get a third light now. D*mn.

    xoxo Tam (Detroit wkshop girl)

  • Dana said on May 4, 2008

    WOW :) and thank you!

  • Kirsten said on May 7, 2008

    Zack, if you can stand yet another “Thanks” on this, consider this one of them! One question, if you don’t mind. Will this same setup, on a smaller scale, also work for product photography? I get the importance of a third light now, and FINALLY understand why I keep getting gray edges (thank you again)but it’s hard to create distance between a necklace and the background, other than putting it on a clear riser, but that comes with reflection issues. Any tips appreciated. Keep it coming.

  • Justin said on May 15, 2008

    Zack, thanks so much for your generosity in sharing this valuable information!

  • Jake said on May 16, 2008

    I don’t get your exposure settings.

    If your using an incident reading of your background then wouldn’t setting the camera to the same aperture as your reading expose your subject at it’s true tone (i.e., a white background will expose at white).

    I get that your background may not be pure white so you would use maybe 1/2 stop above the incident reading but 1-1/2 stops???

    Or 3 stops above a reflective reading would work too.

    But the 1-1/2 stops above incident doesn’t make sense.

  • zack said on May 17, 2008

    Hi Jake,
    You can run around with a meter and test it. 1.5 stops hotter than the subject gets the pure white “pop” out of the background. It has always been the standard. Look at the underexposed image above. The light on the subject was f8 and the light on the background was f8. The subject is exposed properly but there is still a fair amount of density in the BG. Adding another stop to stop and a half to that makes it “pop” without being so bright that you get a lot of flare issues.


  • Gary said on May 17, 2008

    I’m confused, wouldn’t 1.5 stops hotter than 8f be 13f? One stop would be 11f and two stops is 16f. Where is 11.5 coming from?

  • zack said on May 17, 2008

    Hi Gary,
    When I say 11.5 I mean “11 1/2”. An exposure between 11 and 16. Sorry if that was confusing. I still live in the film days I guess!


  • Mack said on May 18, 2008

    Great info but I wish you’d use a darker font so I could read this easier.

  • Priya said on May 25, 2008

    thanks, gary. hope you put a lot of tutorials up

  • Debbie Kaye said on June 3, 2008

    Dear Zack, I love all the info. by the way my sons name is zack. I just wanted to know, my studio is mobile and I move around a lot. Any other solution to the bi-fold doors when shooting on white BG. They seem cumbersome for a 5″2 little lady!

  • Geoff Wilde said on June 3, 2008

    Zack, I’m having trouble getting the white boards to meet the shadow. I’m using 2 550ex, one on each side. I’ve got the subject exposed just fine, but full body leaves me gray just behind the subject. Any tips?

    The 550s are set at 1/4, but even higher I still get the shadow. They are also about 4-5 feet from the seamless BG.

  • Wedding Photographer France said on June 11, 2008

    Really excellent! I’m surprised not to see at least a thin line at the point where the board finishes on the paper.

  • Ed Kelley said on June 11, 2008

    I’m interested in how you get so much detail on the models left side of the face with one light. Can you expand on the postion of the softbox to models and cameras right side.
    I would have expected you would use some kind of fill on camera left. Could it be the size of the softbox to have something to do with it?

  • Debbi said on June 11, 2008


  • Denis Rouleau said on June 18, 2008

    Thanks for all that great info. Fun to read too!

  • Greg Lumley said on June 20, 2008

    Hi Zack, would you mind explaining how you had your lights setup for the “All lights Off” shot 😛

  • jason malwitz said on June 20, 2008

    Zack i am just wondering, if this is done correctly should the histogram show total overexposure of the background and the blinking highlights screen should show everything but the subject as blown out Is that the idea? thanks

  • Giselel said on June 23, 2008

    OMG, I have been searching all over the place for someone to help me out with shooting on a white vinyl background and I think I’ve been saved. Thank you so much, I definitely have to get me some of that white flooring, I love the look that it creates. This is the greatest tutorial ever, very detailed, I can’t wait to put it in practice. Thanks again!

  • Peter S said on June 24, 2008

    This is great stuff. I’ve been looking for a decent tutorial on this subject for ages. Thank you.

  • barry moir said on June 25, 2008

    What distance do you recommend lights to be from backdrop, currently im using portaflash 336 in studio and have them around 6 feet out from wall and about 6 feet high.



  • kris m said on July 1, 2008

    thanks for this tutorial, very well written & informative.

  • Chris Green said on July 7, 2008

    Dude, how do you know Tom Wages?

  • Tony Powell said on July 14, 2008

    Fantastically useful information. A real resource I can apply. Thanks so much.

  • Me. said on July 15, 2008

    You don’t need to paint the ceiling black:
    just get a biiig piece of geotextile, that is black, and fasten it to the ceiling.

    Geotextile isn’t flammable, some kinds are rather black, and it comes in HUGE widths.

    It’s used under sand, to prevent it from getting into the drainage system, say under flagstones, on commercial property.

    Just get it cut to size, before it leaves wherever you’re buying it from
    ( it’s heavy )
    and make certain your ceiling has studs or something in it that are reachable, fasten reasonably well, cut out the holes for light-fixtures, & you’re done.

    Cheaper than being sued for black-paint, ain’t it?

  • comatosed said on July 30, 2008

    Wow, priceless, absolutely priceless. I’m glued… I should prepare to teach another English class to a bunch of Korean kids but instead I’m gonna read part 3. Thanks so much,

  • Dan Tong said on August 3, 2008


    This is by far the absolute most comprehensive, and clearest explanation of how to do white backgrounds right. My experience of overexposing the background to the extent that fine strands of hair break up is probably very common and unnecessary. Most peopel have no idea how much time and effort goest into presenting this type of information so thoroughly it. Thanks a million for making it all so clear and understandable.



  • Scott McGregor said on August 14, 2008

    I am trying to do some simple shots of products for my company on white background. I borrowed a set of studio strobes and power supply etc from a friend. I’m shootig them into umbrellas. These products are simple cables for the most part laying directly on the white BG. By the time I get my exposure right on the product the white BG isn’t so white anymore. How do I balance it?


  • jodie said on August 26, 2008

    thanks so much for all the insightful information…
    I have been dabbling with the white seamless for a while and never get it quite right..
    the flooring I think will change a lot.
    Here’s hoping I can get something slightly remeniscent of your great work..

  • roberto adrian said on September 3, 2008

    hi zack, this is great tutorial – kudos to you for sharing! i already ordered the dvd an waiting for it.
    Question? what are those stands with the backgrounds lights? i like the smaller foot print

  • zack said on September 4, 2008

    Hi Roberto,
    I found those at KEH. I went in there one day to pick up a lens I had ordered and they were hanging out in the foyer. They sold them to me for $75 each. I like them too but they don’t have a specific brand name or model number that I can find. Imagine a light stand on an office chair pedestal and you have an idea of what these are like. They may have been a DIY project or something.


  • roberto adrian said on September 4, 2008

    thanks zack for answering so fast – i will keep looking around!

  • Sarah Dolejs said on September 8, 2008

    Thanks so much for the info. I am in classes for photography and an upcoming assignment is fashion on white seamless. Your info on this is fantastic. I am going to share the link with my classmates. Thank you!

  • blackdood said on September 25, 2008

    OM, just peeped the OneLight dvd and its the best photography dvd I’ve ever seen. 5 stars. Zack outdid himself.

  • daniel said on October 29, 2008

    hi zack, this is fascinating stuff. The only confusion I have is that how you can achieve even lighting across the BG from edge to edge and top to bottom? Also, how can you make the tile board floor look like have the same brightness as the background? i want to try your techniques with full body length shots. Thanks in advance.

  • Ingo said on November 6, 2008

    Hi Zack,

    great tut as it was said a million times…

    I wonder what your tile boards would be named here in Germany.

    Can you be so kind and try to describe the material they are made of?

    Are those made of PVC, PU, Plywood or what else? Are those covered with a matt, semi-matt or glossy surface?

    Think that infos would help me out…

    Thx in advance,

  • Don Steele said on November 19, 2008

    Great stuff! I need to change to a white bg for my pet photography. I take photos in various places, setting up the studio as I go space is often tight and dogs run around – are there lights I can clamp onto light stands? Recommendations?
    Many thanks

  • zack said on November 20, 2008

    Hi Don,
    I’m not sure what you are asking. Most lights can attach to stands. With hotshoe flashes you use an umbrella adapter. With Alien Bee / Travelites / Dynalites.


  • Ingo said on November 22, 2008


    still hoping that you could answer something to my question from nov 6th, 2008…

    best regads,

  • Andrew said on November 24, 2008

    Hey Zack,

    This tutorial is HIGHLY appreciated and certainly well received by us aspiring amateurs here. Once again, thank you very very much.

    One question, Is there a reason why you don’t light the background from the back? Is it that the light is too intense and goes through producing too much wrap on the subject? PS, how did you score bi-fold doors for only $19.99? The ones I saw (for closets) were $129.99 each 😛

    thanks so much zack. i aspire to be like you.

  • Terry Farmer said on November 25, 2008

    Zack, great stuff, what do you do with big groups…..regarding the floor. Can you tape those tile panels together? Please help, I have been painting my floor but it gets SO dirty.
    Thank you!

  • Ghislain Leduc said on November 28, 2008

    What a good turorial, maybe it’s my english but I am not sure what you are using for light on your background, it seems that it is direct lights all the time but is it or you’re using flash also ?
    Lamps or Flash?

    thank you and again thank you, I will get more flash or more lamps depending on your answer and I will practice those white background shot!! :-)

  • Steve said on December 8, 2008

    Hey Zack,
    Just came across this tutorial, and it is awesome. I am relatively new, and appreciate the detail! Have you heard of anyone lighting the background with 285’s? I have 2 of them and two Bowens GM 200 w/s strobes, and was wondering which should go where. Thanks in advance for your help, great looking work!

  • Beverly Guhl said on February 13, 2009

    Zack… I’ve been trying to do this setup for days and it’s just not working. My foreground is always too dark; and when I get it light enough the model is overexposed. I’ve posted some pics on a forum. Maybe you can solve the mystery?

    Much thanks!!!

  • Bill Zaspel said on February 18, 2009

    I’ve just begun remodeling my home studio and these lessons provide fantastic insight into the areas that I am really interested. Great work. Thanks for the excellent information.

  • Kenneth said on February 23, 2009


    Great tutorial! And the video on Scott Kelby’s blog is great.

    I have a question on the seamless. I did some test shoots with a speedlight through a 43in umbrella as main and was getting some good reflections in the tile board. I borrowed a AB 800 set it to about half power used a amvona 43in umbrella/lightbank. The reflection was there just not as crisp. I think I am just blowing it out. But then if I moved the light back or dropped the power I lost the exposure on the model. Ideas or suggestions?


  • Sheldon said on February 25, 2009

    Has anyone been able to find the tileboard at Home Depot lately? We don’t have one locally and none of the local stores have anything similar. When I call the nearest store they don’t have that sku # and neither does the Home Depot Website.

  • Nikki said on March 2, 2009


    The tileboard is in the paneling section. I had no idea what tileboard was used for and neither did any of the employees. I don’t know if the SKU has changed, but the price point has gone up to $13.85.

    If you go to Georgia Pacific’s website – http://www.gp.com, look up flat surface tileboard. It should give you the option to find a location near you and that should give you an idea if your local hardware stores, HD, or Lowes has that brand and if so, that would be a good starting point.

  • Viola carnelos said on March 2, 2009

    I succeed in having a pure white BG, but the floor in the foreground has a yellow tint.
    I don’t use tile board, the subject is standing on the extended seamless white paper background.
    There are no reflections coming from around…
    What am I doing wrong?

  • Hampshire wedding photographer said on March 4, 2009

    You are lucky to have tile board. Try finding it in the UK. The only thing I can find is chipboard and 12mm thick, and the surface is horrible. Its the same with foamboard, almost impossible to find.

    Love these tutorials Zach.

  • Viola carnelos said on March 5, 2009

    Well, I sit in Cyprus, certainly no tile board to find here, nothing even similar… not talking about professional help!
    Thanks Zach for these superb tutorials!

  • Marc said on March 19, 2009

    This tutorial is simply stunning. Thanks a lot for sharing! I have one question though, about the wrap. You say if you want less wrap, move the subject away from the background, but keep the main/BG ratio. On the other hand, you say, the back-of-the-head reading tells you about the wrap, but keeping the main/BG ratio, wouldn’t you automatically keep the back-of-the-head reading? So the wrap must be influenced by something else. I wonder if it is maybe the effective size of the BG, the bigger this is, the more light coming from side angles and thus wrapping the subject. Sorry for the nerdy question 😉


  • Rory said on March 28, 2009

    As a Lightroom and Photoshop Junkie, I have been spending countless hours perfecting the art of blowing out my “off white” backgrounds. Then along comes Mr ZA ! wow. Its the kind of tutorial that abruptly has brought my search of this aspect to an end. Thanx for sharing this info so freely with all, you have become the Linux of photography.

  • Juan Carlos said on April 20, 2009


    Thank you so much for the tutorials. I am the number one fan of your One light DVD.

  • Sheri Johnson said on April 22, 2009

    once again, good stuff here. love the demo images.

  • Michael Park said on April 29, 2009

    Awesome..what can i say…

    I got the BG covered…works as you expain it!! … subject looks great with until I shoot full length and the floor tile board (white) shows a completely different appearance… what am I doing wrong…it is like a shadow from the bifolds or something..help if you are so kind as to answer the question…thanks…

  • Michael Park said on April 29, 2009

    Sorry my email was wrong before..(just in case it mattered) Awesome..what can i say…

    I got the BG covered…works as you expain it!! … subject looks great with until I shoot full length and the floor tile board (white) shows a completely different appearance… what am I doing wrong…it is like a shadow from the bifolds or something..help if you are so kind as to answer the question…thanks…

  • Amanda Radovic said on May 12, 2009

    Hi Zack, just got a question for you. I’m in Australia and we don’t have a home depot! THis tile board stuff…could you describe it for me please. Is it vinyl looking, thickness, is it rigid or flexible. I’m sure we have the same product just under a different name!
    Thanks for your tutes..they are great stuff.

  • Cheryl said on July 4, 2009

    Thanks so much for all your excellent work. Fabulous tutorial. Really appreciate it.

  • Eric Munn said on July 9, 2009

    For those of you looking for the thrifty tileboard in Canada, Totem building supplies has them.

  • robert torres said on July 18, 2009

    Thanks so much! You’re tutorial inspired me to try this out on my cats. I have some human friends who are next.

  • rory said on August 17, 2009

    this is such an amazingly useful resource, Zack – thanks for taking the time to put it up. keep up the good work. Rory, London UK

  • Jomar said on August 26, 2009

    Great tutorial, man I’ve been having a hard time looking for that tileboard, can’t even find it in Home Depot…nevertheless, thank you again for the tutorial!

  • Raymond said on September 30, 2009

    ^^^ @ Jomar, I remember hearing that Home Depot no longer carries that product. Try Lowe’s Building Supply if you have one nearby… they have it in my local Lowe’s store but it is called panelboard… same stuff.

  • Michael said on October 4, 2009

    Hi zach, great article, I bought some tile boards and bi-fold cutters today. but I am having a problem with getting seamless lighting. The backlights that falls onto the edge of the tile board are showing, I seem to be unable to get the line to disappear entirely. I use an SB-900 with a shoot-through umbrella at 1/4th for the main light. 1/2th makes the line go away but then my subject becomes overexposed. Any tips.. totally confused here :S

  • Vic said on October 8, 2009

    Is it possible to do it with 3 160ws lights? Thanks

  • zack said on October 11, 2009

    @Vic – Yes, you can do it with that. I’ve done it with hotshoe flashes.


  • Jarek said on November 21, 2009

    This is most usefull information I have ever saw on internet. This article and your ideas helped me a lot with my product photos.
    You’re doing whole lot a damn work here, sharing information with others. I hope You’ve already published few books – I can translate them to polish any time :-) (if not – belive me You should…)
    If You ever stop by in Poland mail me – we must have a beer or else together.
    Thanks !!!

  • chris said on November 30, 2009

    Great info! What would you do with larger groups like 10-12? I was going to go with 12′ paper, but was worried about the extra seams in the tileboard, do you just clone that out? My kingdom for a cyc lol!

    Answer – 10 to 12 people on seamless is a stretch. 12′ is good but you are going to have to have them really close to each other and shoot with a longer lens to compress the background. Either that or rent a studio with a large cyc wall.

    If you shingle the tile board correctly you won’t have much post production work to fix the seams.

  • Lenn Honolulu Floor said on December 8, 2009

    Hey there I found your post by chance, I was searching Google for Honolulu flooring providers when I came upon your webpage, I must say your website is really great I just love the layout, its astounding!. I’m strapped for time in this instance to completely browse your website but I have bookmarked it and also subscribed for your RSS feeds. I will be back in a day or two. Thanks for a great blog.

  • Mike Walker said on March 25, 2010

    Thank you so much for this. I managed to create my first white background photo the other day with one sb600 and the on board flash. It was just good enough to encourage me but I realized right away I needed help. This is exactly what I was looking for. Thank you for caring enough to take the time to create this tutorial!

  • Steve Manhart said on April 10, 2010

    This is awesome. I have not had any real success on high key so I will be trying this. Was wondering if I could use white foam core board (4-8’x4′ Vcards) instead of the bi doors.

  • Anthon said on April 14, 2010

    You are the man!

  • PhotosByStephan said on April 21, 2010

    Thomas looks like he’s getting ready to pitch some Apple products.

  • Mike Greenslade said on April 29, 2010

    Thanks Zack, For years I’ve been humping around 8×4 sheets of polystyrene, using upturned tables with paper gaffered to them and there’s the answer: bi-fold doors! Cuss word genius!

  • Valeria Giometti said on June 3, 2010

    Hey Zac. I wish I had read this before….I spent years in front os the computer fixing my images. From know on you saved many years of my life…hehehehe..Thanks a lot!!!

  • David said on July 30, 2010

    Is it possible to get the same results with using bardoors instead of bifold doors?

  • zack said on August 4, 2010

    David – Yes.

  • Pu Pvc said on August 25, 2010

    Very happy to see your article, I very much to like and agree with your point of view. Thank you for sharing. At the same time,i love Pu Pvc very much .Welcome to look at my website and blog articles.Hope we can become good friends, and exchange and to help each other! Thanks!!

  • lance said on October 28, 2010


    Awesome tutorial and information. I just stumbled across this at the perfect time as I was setting up a studio to do the same types of shots.

    Once quick question for clarification. You mentioned that you like to have the ratio set to have the B about 1.5 stops above the subject. In your example, you used f8 for your subject and then set your background to f11.5 for your BG.

    If your subject is f8, wouldn’t F14 be closer to “1.5” stops above f8?

    Is this just a case where F11 was enough to make it pure white and there was no need to actually get closer to the 1.5 stops above the subject? f8 to f11 is exactly one stop.

    Thanks again for all the wonderful information you publish and the open sharing.


  • Kala said on October 30, 2010

    This tutorial is the best….I originally had the same issue as some of the above and was a lil confused about the f11.65 being 1.5 stronger than f8. After reading through all of the comments I realized that myoriginal answer of 13.5 was correct!!!!! Glad that I am not the only one that was confused

  • Rod said on November 25, 2010


    Great articles. We wondered if we could republish them on our website?

    We are The National Photographic Society.

    I won’t post the URL here in case it looks like spam but could you email us back to discuss this?



  • Carrie Evans said on December 13, 2010

    ok, so I just started shooting seamless and I cannot even wrap my brain around most of this technical stuff. I have one light and a cheap bendable lamp shining on the background. Can I still do this? I can’t afford 1-2 more lights right now. I also have windows letting in natural light on one side. (which I was told would make things more complicated)

    My other question is that my light seems to be casting orangeish. What is that all about?

  • pat said on November 10, 2014

    Can you please reupload these images? I remember reading this tutorial a few years ago and came back to see that the photos are gone. Please and thank you.

  • vikki granger said on November 13, 2014

    I have just stumbled upon these tutorials and they are AWESOME! The only problem I”m having is that none of the images are showing so I can’t seen any of the set-ups…. can you point me to where the images can be found?

  • Debbie said on January 4, 2015

    Trying to study your post from 2008 on White Seamless Parts 1 & 2 – for some reason the photos or videos are showing. Would love to be able to see your examples. Checked out youtube, but didn’t find any post of yours for the White Seamless Parts 1 & 2. Thanks.

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