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Are you the type of photographer that is set in your ways? Take a look at your last 10 photo shoots. Would you say that they are very similar in one way or another? If you’re like me, I’ve fallen into the creative rut I just described many times throughout my career. I became comfortable using certain colors for backgrounds and certain lighting setups, only because I knew they would work just about every time. While it’s important on the one hand to be able to produce consistent results, it’s also important to push your creativity to keep your work fresh and exciting. One such way I was able to do this was by using collapsible backdrops and photographing them with lower apertures.

Let’s talk about a few things first. In order to pull off the look that you see in the images for this article you’re going to need:

  •  A strobe (or flash) that can power down very low (such as a Paul C Buff Einstein)
  • If you don’t have a light like the one mentioned above you can create the same look by using a neutral density (ND) filter
  •  A prime lens with an aperture of 2.8 or less

Collapsible BackdropsPhoto by Miguel Quiles, Featuring: Lakeside Collapsible Backdrop

These items lay the foundation for achieving the look that I’m going for. Shooting with a lower aperture gives the mottled collapsible background a gorgeous, blended look similar to what you might see in high end fashion magazine ads. The best part is that they are so easy to setup, tear down, and store away in your home, studio, or on location. 

The Setup

To get you started I’ll give you 2 of my favorite lighting setups. Let’s start with one using an octodome. First, set up your collapsible backdrop using the included stand and holder. Have your subject stand approximately 2—3 feet away from the backdrop and place your Octodome just outside of the camera’s field of view (typically 2-3 feet away as well). This look will create soft shadows on the unlit side of the subject’s face which can be modified by feathering your lights or by adding a white reflector for fill. I personally love the look of the shadows so I leave them as is. You can see the results of this setup below. 

Collapsible Backdrops

See more photos in this style: Photo Gallery: Creative Headshots with Collapsible Backdrops

Collapsible BackdropsPhoto by Miguel Quiles, Featuring: Lakeside Collapsible Backdrop

Another versatile setup is using a beauty dish with a diffusion sock. Here we’ll raise the beauty dish using a boom arm and center it above our subject. Depending on how high you raise your dish it will also have an impact on the shadows so I try to keep it about the same distance as I would an Octodome, and use a white fill card below if the shadows under the chin/eyes are too intense. 

Collapsible Backdrops

Collapsible BackdropsPhoto by Miguel Quiles, Featuring: Lakeside Collapsible Backdrop

For these portraits I highly recommend shooting tethered so that you can ensure your images are in proper focus. Shooting with such a shallow depth of field leads to beautiful images but if you aren’t careful the images may be out of focus if you or your subject move. I use a Savage Tech Table to hold my laptop running Lightroom and every 20 frames or so I review the images to ensure proper focus. If you’re shooting a subject with long hair I would also recommend using a fan to blow their hair as it really amps up the dreaminess of the image! The best part of this is that you can set up these backdrops just about anywhere and achieve this amazing look. 

Try this setup for your next portrait shoot and enjoy the results. Happy shooting!

Miguel Quiles

Miguel Quiles is a New Jersey-based commercial wedding and portrait photographer who’s been involved in the industry for over 15 years, starting off first as a salesman at a local camera store. Since then, Miguel has been refining his skills and pushing the limits of his creative abilities. As a self-taught photographer, Miguel hopes to share his experience and knowledge with new and upcoming photographers who wish to take their work to the next level. Miguel is a Sony Associate Artisan of Imagery, blogger and contributor for RangeFinder Magazine & SLR Lounge. You can also find Miguel teaching workshops and seminars at Adorama and Unique Photo in the NY/NJ area. Check out more of his work on his website.
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