Intro about a black background

How to get a black background in the studio?


To get a white background in the studio, you add extra light to the background. For a black background you'll have to do the opposite. To get a black background you have to make sure there is no light hitting it.


It's the same as for a white background; the distance from background to your model is important. I'll get back to you about this.
When you're looking for a background you start with the material. A big black piece of cloth or paper is ideal. I prefer cloth because I can fold it but when I unfold it I can span several feet.



Just as with a white background you want to separate the light from the model and the background. In case of a white background you add extra light but when you want to create a black background you want to prevent the light that hits your model from reaching the background.

photo with a wrinkly black background

This is a photo of the black cloth I use as a background. You can see the wrinkles. I could have ironed them out but I'm quite lazy. Besides that, it's not the easiest job to iron a piece of cloth that seize. And it would take some time.
Too much time. Time I can spend better on something else and I know a way to get rid of the wrinkles without plug in my iron.

The advantage of a black background is you don't have to light it. Sounds idiotic, but it's true. To get a black background just make sure there is no light on it. When working with a white background you probably need additional lighting, for a black background you'll need no extra lights. Even when you have one flash you can use it for your model and that's all you'll need.

You want a nice deep black. It's easy to do in post with software like Photoshop or Lightroom. But when you have a lot of pictures it can be a huge pile of work. Best thing is to get it right in camera. It will save you up time afterwards.

To light your model and not your background you have to create some distance. It's difficult to say how much distance. It depends on what you want. If you want a close up, you can keep the distance shorter compared to when you want to take a photo of a large group. A nice guidance is to double the distance from your model to the background the same as the distance from your lightsource to your model. For example, when your model is 4 feet away from your flash, the distance from model to background should be 8 feet.
In a schematic:

Schematics with a larger distance between model and black background in the studio

This schedule shows the distance from the lightsource to model is half of the distance from model to background. The light of your lightsource will lit the model quite good (if you set it up correct of course) and a lot of light will spill to the background. But when it reaches the background it will be weaker compared to when it hit your model.

You can even calculate it. When you light your model at f/5.6, the light on your background will be 1.5 stop less. The distance is between model and background is double the distance as from model to lightsource. Let's say its four feet between lightsource and model. Four feet behind your model (that's in the middle between your model and the background) the light will be 1 stop weaker. After the complete distance you'll lose an extra 0.5 stop so overall it will set you back 1.5 stop on the background. This isn't good enough.

The light on your background will be exposed with f/3.5 (in fact some less) and your camera has a dynamic range that is wide enough to cover that. The power on your background will be a lot less if you create more distance between model and background.

Because there is quite some light of your lightsource hitting the background, it won't black out completely. Results will look a bit like this:

Example of a larger distance between model and tha black background in the studio

And it needs to be a deeper black. It might be a bit difficult to see on a little image like this but in the original you can see lot's of wrinkles and dirt on the background. I don't want that. But it's logical. There is still light hitting the background and the camera will pick it up.

As said; you can create more distance between model and background. I do have that space in the studio but I can imagine not everybody does. Let's find a solution where you don't have to create more distance. The problem is that the model is correctly lit but there is to much light hitting the background.

It's an easy and cheap solution to solve that. You can block your light from your lightsource reaching the background. By simply place something between the lightsource and the background you prevent the light from reaching your background. You can use a screen for it, or another piece of cloth. Don't go to your local photostore. Yes, you can buy nice screens for it. Most of the time it's quite expensive. You can buy enough material at your local hardwareshop to build something yourself.
I usually use an extra piece of cloth fixed between two tripods. Works good enough.

Schedule to get a pure black background for your photo in the studio

The schedule shows a screen in front of the lightsource. Most of my light hits the model, and that's the main purpose of my light. Light that travels pass the model and would hit the background. It is blocked by the screen. It casts a shadow on the background; deeper black.

Make sure that the material of your screen that faces your lightsource is also black. When you use whit the light will bounce back. If it hist your model or your lens you'll get other problems. You want to control the light yourself.

If the shadow casted by your screen is too small; put the screen closer. Close enough that the casted shadow is big enough. Be careful not to putt it thus close that it blocks the light that should hit your model; that's something you don't want.

As you can see it's a relatively quick, simple and cheap way to get your results; a deep black background I don't have to edit in Photoshop afterwards. Especially when you have a big amount of photos to finish it saves up massive amount of time.

Example of a phoot with a pure black background in the studio

It's also maybe wise to read the article about how to get a white background in the studio.





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