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When I first started my jump into studio photography, I had two rolls of seamless, Savage Universal #66 Pure White, and #27 Thunder Gray. Between barely making the bottom line of expenses, and fear of it being a one trick pony, I couldn’t see the use of the vibrant colors that are offered by Savage. It wasn’t until I gained a better understanding of lighting, and light control, that I realized how useful and practical those colored seamless rolls could be.

I always used Pure White and Thunder Gray seamless, because it’d easily give me a full tonal range of grayscale for whatever I need. Lighting the white would give me the pure white that you often see in commercial work, and not lighting it would give me a nice medium gray. When I wanted something a little more dramatic, I’d opt for the Thunder Gray, allowing me to get the dark grays, all the way down to black. For actor headshots, the brighter colors can be a bit too distracting, so I stick to whites, grays, and black.

Savage Seamless Paper

My initial belief was that buying a roll like True Blue , would be a one trick pony, and could only be used for a shoot or two, and then need to be retired for my portfolio for a while. Though with the correct lighting, you’re actually able to maximize the colors you have, using only a single roll. All three shots above were done using the same seamless background color: Pecan.

I’m not going to get super nerdy with lighting principles here because there are better blogs for that stuff (and an uber nerdy lighting article I’ve already written can just be read here ). But to maximize your single rolls of seamless, you need to understand the Inverse Square Law. The Inverse Square Law states that light intensity is proportional to 1 over distance squared. In laymen terms, this just means that for every time you double the distance of your light from your subject, you lose 75% of your power output. So keeping your light close to your subjects means you’ll get a greater and faster falloff of light. So to maximize this technique, I light my backdrops independently from my subjects, allowing me to control the amount of light hitting the backdrops and my subjects separately.

To light your backdrops separately, you need to have space. I usually have my main light anywhere from 1-3 ft from my subject, and at least that amount of distance separating my subject from the background, and then use independent lighting to light just the backdrop. Sounds complicated, but use the diagram below for reference.

Distance between Subject and Background is larger than distance between Main Light and Subject.

So what does this all mean? Well, in short, you can control the amount of light that falls on your subject, as well as the light on your backdrop. So by turning down or up the light output of your background lights, you’re able to adjust the color tone on the backdrop, without changing the light that falls on your subject. The results are pretty drastic, especially for the more vibrant backdrops that Savage Universal offers.

While these examples show what they’re capable of, people don’t realize that I use many of the same backdrops for a lot of my work, and can get far more tonal range depending on how they’re lit. One example of this is with one of my favorite colors, #53 Pecan. I use this backdrop for a large majority of my beauty work because it’s easy to match to the tonal colors of your subject’s complexion. Have someone with fair skin? Just light the backdrop, so it’s an off white. Darker complexion? Don’t light it at all (or barely light it) to give it more of a mocha color tone. The result is that I’m able to create a multitude of looks using a single roll of colored seamless while making it look like my studio has a rainbow of papers to choose from (at this point, it does…but that’s only because I’ve grown obsessed with this technique). Some examples of this technique are below, with a few of the colors I have available in my studio (my apologies for my model, who was a little stiff). You’ll notice, I’m able to change the color of the background, without changing the light on my subject, by simply lighting them each independently.

Savage Deep Yellow

Savage Deep Yellow Seamless Paper

Savage Flamingo

Savage Flamingo Seamless Paper

Savage Orange

Savage Orange Seamless Paper

Savage Pecan

Savage Pecan Seamless Paper

Savage True Blue

Savage True Blue Seamless Paper

Savage Plum

Savage Plum Seamless Paper

Savage White

Savage Pure White Seamless Paper

Do you have examples of using this technique? Let’s see your examples in the comments below!

Zach Sutton

Zach Sutton is an award-winning and internationally published commercial and headshot photographer based out of Los Angeles, CA. His work highlights environmental portraiture, blending landscapes and scenes with portrait photography. His work and writings have been featured on Fstoppers, SLR Lounge, Profoto Blog, DSLR Photography Magazine, Phototuts+, Photofocus, Resource Magazine, and more. When not shooting, Zach often dedicates his time to help with education in the field of photography and videography. He often teaches workshops and gives lectures all over North America, as well as contributing to various publications in the field of photography when he has time. You can see some of his work on his website.

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