How to Use a Photography Backdrop: 5 Essential Tips

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Using a Photography Backdrop.

One of the most overlooked choices a photographer faces is finding and using the perfect backdrop. Not only are there a number of different types of backdrops to choose from, but digital photographers are becoming so dependent on editing photos, it’s immediately assumed that any imperfections will be fixed in post-processing.

Yet, the type and color of backdrop you choose seriously impact the quality and clarity of your photos. Sure, you can edit out distractions or blemishes and correct the lighting in Photoshop, but getting the shot right in-camera can save a lot of time and energy.

Types of Photography Backdrops

The first choice to make is what kind of backdrop you’ll need. This will depend heavily on what type of photography you’re doing, where you’re doing it, and how often you’ll need that particular type of backdrop.

Generally, photographic backdrops come in three main types:

1. Muslin Backdrop

Muslin backdrop is an inexpensive, medium-weight, woven cotton fabric that can take a beating and still look great. In fact, no other backdrop is as portable and as forgiving as muslin.

2. Seamless Paper

Seamless paper backdrops come in the form of paper rolls and provide convenient, one-time use. They are light, easy to use, and can be found in almost any color or texture. The rolls are heavier to transport and take less abuse than muslin but are overall less expensive.

3. Painted Canvas

Canvas backdrops are found primarily in photography studios. They’re a bit pricier than muslin or paper, but their ability to hang flat and render a consistent look regardless of how many times they’re rolled and unrolled makes them a worthy investment, especially for portraiture.

Photographer Robert Harrington uses a patterned backdrop for a glamour shoot. Notice the model is sitting well in front of the backdrop.

5 Tips For Getting a Shot With a Perfect Backdrop

1. Double-check to make sure the colors in the background and the foreground coordinate.

Choose a background color or pattern that highlights the subject without detracting their look. Not all colors work with all subjects.

2. Make sure your subject is not standing too close to the background.

For many backdrops (especially speckled or textured ones), placing your model about 6 ft. or more in front of the backdrop is ideal. This will diffuse the detail of the backdrop and allow the background to “stay in the background.” You’ll still be able to get some texture and shadow, but the hard definitions melt away. It also helps to prevent funny reflections and/or shadows.

3. If you’re using seamless paper backdrops, store your paper rolls upright.

Storing them horizontally will allow you to create a sagging in the middle and produce big “wobbles” when you go to stretch it out.

4. Never select a background that is going to create a distraction or take attention away from the subject of the photo.

As tempting as some of the “fun” backgrounds may be, many of them can take the focus away from the subject.

5. Make sure to fill the frame with your subject.

What about you? Do you have any other tips for working with backdrops? Let us know!

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Usnea Lebendig is a travel and landscape photographer who loves trekking in the wilderness, exploring other cultures, and using photography for social activism.
Usnea Lebendig is a travel and landscape photographer who loves trekking in the wilderness, exploring other cultures, and using photography for social activism.

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