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White Backdrops

Next time you pass a magazine stand, take a moment to notice how many of the covers were photographed against a white background. I’ve never counted to determine the exact ratio but every month it’s obvious that many if not most covers use white.

The reasons are simple: White makes a cover “pop” so that it commands attention amongst the competing magazines. A model will jump off the page in front of a white background, and, white shows print extremely well which makes editing and layout easier.

It’s become the standard look in product photography for the same reasons. Everything from jewelry to automotive parts to electronics are routinely shot against a white background. Online shoppers have become accustomed to seeing their favorite products displayed this way, and many photographers will go with white by default because it just works without guessing.

Translum

Translum

Savage Universal offers a unique backdrop called Translum that gives photographers perhaps the most useful material available for making white backdrops. That’s because Translum not only works great in this regard but also happens to be a photographer’s best friend when it comes to transforming light.

This translucent roll of wrinkle-free styrene (a type of plastic) is similar to vellum, the plasticized cotton paper that is popular for architectural blueprints and tracing. Because of its opaque properties, Translum works as a highly efficient diffuser when placed over a light source. Think of the frosted glass effect.

Translum

Translum’s ability to soften light helps cut down on unwanted reflections. Photographers often use it to achieve a nearly shadowless look that can be very appealing and difficult to get otherwise. It’s easy to use because if one piece doesn’t do the trick, you can simply stack pieces until the light looks right.

Translum invites improvisation in the studio. You can even position a subject and lights behind it to achieve a gauzy silhouette. Considering all that Translum is capable of, it’s no surprise that many photographers consider it indispensable for portraiture, product photography, and many other applications where you want nuanced control over lighting.

Translum

Versatile and Reusable

Translum offers a dynamic alternative to traditional white muslins or paper backgrounds. Whereas a muslin shows texture in its fabric, Translum is seamless and provides an even, smooth look. And while seamless paper is a popular choice for a white backdrop, Translum is a more durable material that can be cleaned with a mild soap to restore its original whiteness following a shoot.

Translum’s wonderful diffusing qualities make it an ideal choice for a backdrop. It’s perfect for high-key situations. Many photographers enjoy lighting it from behind to create a soft white background that eliminates texture. A paper backdrop, however, would show its texture if lit in this fashion. When lit from the front, Translum will give excellent results similar to seamless paper.

When not used as a backdrop, Translum is perfect for on-the-fly light diffusion. Some choose to hang it full-length so that the Translum reaches from ceiling to floor to create a large soft-box with a pair of flash units. It can also be placed in front of a window or open doorway to diffuse natural light. No more harsh shadows from that sunlit window!

Translum’s versatility is only limited by the imagination of the shooter. A pair of scissors makes quick work of it, as Translum can easily be cut into any shape or size from the 54-inch x 18-foot roll. Because it bends it can be manipulated into almost any configuration you might need. Some objects simply won’t work in a traditional table-top light tent, whereas with Translum, it’s never a problem to tailor a perfectly-sized tent for your shoot.

A roll of Translum is relatively inexpensive considering all that you can do with it, making it the most cost-effective means of creating customized light diffusers for your projects. And once your shoot is done, you’ll be able to re-use the pieces next time.

If you need a seamless light box then Translum makes this possible. By placing the Translum upon a glass box, or simply upon a sheet of glass supported by a pair of sawhorses, the Translum will allow light to flow through from the bottom up. If you’ve ever seen photos of glass sculptures or jewelry illuminated from below, it’s likely that you were seeing Translum in action.

As mentioned, you can also try placing your subject and lights behind a sheet of Translum so that a vague silhouette is produced. You won’t be able to discern details but therein lies the beauty of this technique for it creates more impression than realism. You might even have your model lean into the backdrop to allow the material to flex against the silhouette. It’s yet one more look that can only be had with this amazing stuff called Translum.

 

Elias Butler

Elias Butler is a professional photographer and writer based in Arizona. He's written a book titled "Grand Obsession" and has been published in Sierra, USA Today, and Arizona Highways among many others. See Butler's website here.

  

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