Stop using seamless backdrops! Just kidding, sort of. Use them. Use all the colors in the rainbow and more if you want to. But, and it’s a big but, don’t use colored background paper without a plan or vision. This article isn’t going to be a tutorial, review or anything like that. I just want to put you in the mindset to really think about color before shooting. Think of this as a kind of, kick you in the butt sort of write up.
First, let me introduce myself quickly. Hello! My name is Stevie, StevieChris. I like Martinis. Kidding. I’m a commercial and editorial photographer working in NYC, living in Philly, and of course traveling anywhere clients have me going for the assignment at hand. (Preferably places with good seafood and great cocktails.)
I wanted to discuss some thoughts about choosing colored backgrounds and why you might choose one compared to another. A lot of this comes down to the shot at hand, obviously. When I say the shot, I’m talking about the energy of the shot, the palette, the color composition. I don’t want to sound deep when I say energy but that’s how I look at images before I even pick up the camera. What kind of energy, mood, tone, feeling do I want the viewer to feel? Color plays a big part.
When you choose a background, whether it’s a seamless paper roll, muslin, or even an incredible hand painted canvas, make sure you have a reason you’re choosing it.
Are you color blocking? Are you creating a bright, bold exaggerated stylized over the top image? Maybe you want to convey a darker mood with a dramatic portrait? If you are doing the latter, I might stay away from the bright bold colors. This, of course, is all subjective too. What I’m saying isn’t right, but maybe it’ll help you take a step back and look at things a bit different the next time you have a concept for an image.
Basic color theory helps a lot with choices like this. I won’t even think about getting into color theory in depth right now, but knowing some basics help you in a big way. Making a background choice sometimes seems so easy but can go so wrong on multiple levels. But before I turn into a broken record trying to nail that notion into your brain I’ll move onto the example.
Nowadays it’s so important to stand out all while making sure you show people you have a concept and are able to produce your shoot to execute your idea. Choosing the wrong color seamless backdrop can make or break your image, even if the lighting is impeccable.
My example is this image of a scientist. This is Terrence. He studies solar microscopy. (I know what you’re thinking, but just google it later) His personality is very colorful, no pun intended. When I went into the shoot, I wanted to capture some stylized portraits that were fun and in your face with color helping create a more graphic type of mood. The color palette we were working with started out with a couple of different blue-greens, black and white. (His goggles, apron, and neutral lab coat and black shirt). Looking at the blue-greens, knowing his personality and what he does, I was inspired to go in the direction of an old VHS sci-fi movie cover as inspiration. Working with the blue-greens I wanted to go with a slightly complimentary color way. I’ve attached the color sample as well so you can see more clearly the colors I was working with in the end.
Knowing that, I wanted to choose a background that made him pop while complimenting the subtle colors we started with. The Savage Canary Seamless Roll I had in my studio fit the bill perfectly. I didn’t want the background itself to be lit perfectly even. I wanted a slight gradient to it with a small vignette towards the top corners. I lit the Savage paper with a gridded strip bank low and angled slightly up to get the gradient I was after. The fall off made it easy to make the subtle vignette at the top of the image as well.
After the background was lit, I worked on my subject. Yes I did light the background first. I already knew most of the settings my lights were going to be set at, so in my head I had a good base to begin with. The image was lit with the background light, hair light, gridded 7” dish for a rim, a subtle fill from my 69” Rotalux, and my key, which was a skinned 28” Mola dish with a Rosco gel. The gel was either the #392 Pacific Green, or the #93 Blue Green Cinegel, I forget exactly, but the reason I used it was to give a little boost to the blue-green colors we established before we started setting up.
If the backdrop in this image was a different color maybe it would work. Again, I went with a somewhat complimentary color scheme which I thought executed this image the way I wanted it to. This is all subjective of course. This isn’t the right way to do this, but it is something to consider when using colored backgrounds. I’ve included a comparison with quick Hue/Sat adjustments so you can see how different colors might effect he overall tone. I do like the blueish version, but I wanted the complimentary palette. I’m sure some will prefer a different color, but for what I was going for, the yellow worked best.
If you don’t use Adobe Kuler, I implore you to check it out. It’s something I use almost every time I’m going to use any kind of colored backdrop or gel. I also use it a lot when color toning in post. I hope this helped you in any way, or at least made you think a bit more about how and why you might want to choose one backdrop over another.