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What are those tall skinny things standing up in the corner?

Those tall skinny boxes standing up in the corner together are seamless paper: long wide rolls of paper and they are one of the most versatile and indispensable tools in a photographer’s studio.

We all know that seamless rolls out and provides the photographer with a uniform backdrop, but there are a number of additional uses that many people tend to overlook, and to make matters worse, nobody ever takes the time to tell you how to properly handle seamless. It’s not a rough-and-tumble item like an apple box. Seamless requires gentle handling to be of any real use and must be used in an orderly fashion to serve you well.

How Do I Store It?

Most photographers have a bunch of seamless leaning together in an incoherent pyramid in a corner of their studio, all of them still dressed in their boxes. The more organized photographer has built something that keeps them either standing up or suspended horizontally depending on the configuration of the studio. But proper organization doesn’t end there. The first thing to be done when those rolls are delivered is to open them up, cut a sample the width of the box, one long strip, cut it into four pieces and tape a section of that strip to each side of the box so that no matter whether the box is lying on its side or standing up you’ll know what is in the box without having to open it up. It’s a small thing perhaps, but it will save you a lot of time.

See more: How to Make Your Seamless Paper Last

Photo Featuring Paper Clip Seamless Roll Storage

How Do I Use It?

Once storage and identification have been established, the next consideration is how to use it. But, you say, don’t you just roll it out and start shooting? The answer is yes, but a few simple techniques will make life a whole lot easier.

It may seem unnecessary to say the best way to get that seamless up and running would be to put it on the floor and slide the roll out of the box, then slide your support pole through it. It might seem superfluous to suggest having your stands already in place with your j-hooks already waiting for the support to slide into (a job you can easily do yourself), but does anyone need reminding that once you get the roll in place, make sure to expand the topmost section of your stand up first and work your way down to the lowest (and not the other way around), alternating back and forth so that you raise the seamless evenly? Why you ask? If you start by lifting the bottom section of your stand, by the time you get to the upper section, you’re going to need a ladder to reach it. Who needs that extra work?

One tidy little trick involves an a-clamp. Once you’ve got your roll up on the stands, and before you raise the height, unroll a few feet of the seamless paper until you’ve got enough to be able to pull down. Then, put an a-clamp around the inside of the roll and secure it to the cross-beam. Once you’ve put the stands up to the height you want them, go back up, remove the clamp and release a few more feet, making sure you put the clamp back on when you’re done. If you’re working alone, make sure to put that clamp up there first and the keep it there, otherwise you’ll find your roll of seamless unraveling onto the floor and you won’t be able to stop it. Try that sometime and see how it feels.

The next thing to know about paper backdrops involves gaffers tape (every photographer’s best friend) and a sturdy utility knife (the kind you can swap out blades). Once you’ve got your roll up, it will then become necessary to sweep it out to the front end of where you want your shoot to begin. This is easier done with two people, one person on the ladder letting the paper out bit by bit, and one person pulling to the desired length. Once you have that length, tape it down. Tape as much of the front down, in strips, then tape the sides, especially where your subject is going to be located.

black seamless paper on backdrop stand

Keep Seamless Paper Clean

Seamless paper get dirty when people walk on it. You can make them take off their shoes, you can wipe their soles clean, or you can put a piece of plexiglass over the floor, on top of the seamless, providing you don’t use the plexi for anything else. Having a matte surface plexi (so that you don’t get any unwanted reflected light on your subject) will remove all those considerations and leave you free to shoot to your hearts content.

Alternative Uses for Seamless Paper

When shooting stops, it is not unusual to do two things: first, you cut the paper that has any wear marks on it (that’s where the utility knife comes in handy), fold it up and throw it away. Stop and look first. If there are any clean sections, roll them up and save them. When you’re using white seamless, those sections you used to throw away will act nicely as tabletop backgrounds, or smaller ones will serve as reflectors when glued or taped to a sturdy board. If you don’t have any reflectors on hand, a piece of seamless paper underneath a portrait shoot will fill in any unwanted shadows. Conversely, if you have scraps of black around, that will reduce the light on one side of your subject. Another use of second-hand seamless is to tape or staple them to a flat and use them as large scale reflectors – this is especially true when it comes to colors. Since seamless paper is available in a bewildering array of colors, you can change the tone of your subject by using strips of different paper placed strategically on your reflectors. The wise photographer will have a bare minimum of white, 18% gray and black in stock at all times, and these three will serve a multitude of purposes.

See more: 5 Reasons to Use Backdrop Paper

The uses of seamless paper are virtually endless. The only thing standing in the way of using more of it in imaginative ways is staying stuck in thinking of it as just that stuff you put up behind your subjects. Use your imagination and set your studio free. It’ll pay off in many different ways and you’ll have more fun in the process. Think of it as a kindergarten art project for adults. After all, you get to make pictures for a living: what could be more fun than that?

James Schuck

James Schuck is a writer and photographer working in Southern California. He is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City and has photographed everything from Architecture to Auto Parts to Cookies to Portraits and Weddings.

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