Demo: How to Produce a Pure White Background
How do we make that background pure white? This is important for photographers to learn. It's one of the most used skills, not most used skills, but it's a skill that you use a lot in your professional photography. How do you make a pure white backdrop? Well, I'll tell you right away, the first answer is you gotta have two lights, or one light with a big honking diffusion source that can wash across the whole background. So, you could, maybe, use one of those big giant umbrellas. Maybe, but not so much. You really need equal lighting from the left side and the right side. I'm just gonna land on this. Get two lights, two lights for the backdrop. You'll be much happier. The next thing is you want that backdrop to be exactly, well, I have a range, but in the range of one to 1-1/2 stops brighter than your subject. Now, this is where that handheld light meter would really come into play. I'm gonna show you how to do it visually here, but if you had the handheld light meter, what you would d...
o is you would meter on your subject. (clicks tongue) And let's say when you metered on the subject, your light meter would say f5.6. Cool, your subject is now metered to f5.6. Then, you would take your light meter and put it on the backdrop, meter that with the flashes going off there, and it should be one stop more light. So, one stop more light would be the equivalent to f8, okay? So, one stop brighter. Why not two stops brighter? Why not four stops brighter? You know, why not just blow the thing out? Well, you want a little bit of texture. You want a little, just ever so slight amount of texture in that backdrop to make it seem real, but also, if you go more than two stops, like if you go to three stops, that background will actually bloom and diffuse around your subject, and you won't have that nice delineation in the shoulders and the body. Or if you're shooting flowers and that type of thing, you won't get the nice contrast between the subject and the background. So, you go too bright, you lose the contrast and the color. So, about one to 1-1/2 stops brighter than the subject. Let's just do a real quick experiment here, showing you, and I'll just work through the process of creating that white backdrop. I'll set this on the ground. Anyone wanna be our white backdrop model? You wanna do it?
You look like a white backdrop guy today. So, for this, I'm just gonna have you stand about here. Maybe actually right where you're at, I like that. Okay, cool. And I am gonna pull away our boom, try not to hit you in the head.
Yes, you're welcome. (chuckles) And I'll turn this off. Hey, my gaff tape held up. Yay. Okay, and for this, I think we'll just use the Octa. So, we'll just keep this simple. Three lights and an Octa. Oh, man, you're tall. I knew of this earlier. I'm gonna have you go on the stool. Otherwise, I'd have to stand on an apple box. I've already dropped the camera. I don't wanna drop me, so we'll do that. Go ahead and grab a seat. There, that looks good. I'm gonna have you position over about a foot. Yup, right on. Beautiful, excellent. And we'll just do this. Great. Key light here, and because we're going back to one light, rather than two in the foreground, I'm gonna increase the power on this. I was at 1/32 power. Now, I'm gonna go up to 1/16 power. Okay, so 1/16, there we go. Now, what do we do for those background lights? Well, again, you want them to be about one stop brighter, and without that light meter, I'm just kind of guessing. But let me show you, I'll start out to show you what it looks like when it's not one stop brighter, and then we'll kinda work our power up. I'm gonna shoot these at, oh, let's just go really low. Let's go 1/128 power. So, this is going to be too low overall, 1/128. (humming) Yup, we're good. Try to get 'em equally spaced behind him. Again, the idea and the goal is to evenly light the whole backdrop, so both of those diffusion panels are down. Okay. This is just a three-light setup, obviously. Okay, here we go. One, two, three. (camera clicks) Okay, still got a little bit of that softbox in there. Okay. So, I like the brightness of the flash on him. I think that looks good, but that backdrop, you can see, is just gray, right? So, that was 1/128 power. I'm just gonna increase the brightness. You can tell, just by looking at that, that we're probably three stops too dark. That's just a guess, so I'm gonna do a little bit of verbal math here. 1/128, 1/64, 1/32, 1/16. So, I'm gonna go up to 1/16, which brings me up three stops brighter. Okay, 1/16 there. And then what we'll do, just kinda showing you where I'm headed with this, is we're gonna blast it out, we're gonna go way too bright, so you get a feel for what that looks like as well.
You'll need to fix the, yeah.
Gravity. (laughs) Yeah, it's a metal bracket, but sometimes, I just don't tighten it down as hard as I need to. Nice. Okay, one, two, three. (camera clicks) Got it, I even missed the blink. Okay, good. That's pretty close. I'm gonna call that good. It could probably stand to go maybe a third of a stop brighter, but without a calibrated monitor, it's really hard to tell exactly how bright that is, but that's pretty good. I think that's about the right ratio, okay? So, now, let me show you what it looks like when it's way too bright. So, we'll bump up another, maybe, two, 2-1/2 stops here. I'm currently at 1/16. Oops. Hmm, I wonder if my batteries are goin' on this guy. We have a locked up Nikon flash, so when in doubt, take the batteries out. Put 'em back in. Yeah, interesting. I wonder if there was some interaction between these radio triggers and the flash. You know, stuff like that happens all the time. It just locked up on me for a second. Okay, I'm going to half power. Half there, and then half here, and this is gonna be way too much. I like the way too much face. (camera clicks) Oh, yeah! So, do you see how we lost contrast? We lost color, we lost crispness and clarity in the photo, how the light kinda bled over onto his face? Let's look at this one and the previous one together. Yeah, the one on the left is the one where the background is a little bit too bright. I'm gonna walk over to the screen. You can just see how this one's washed out a little bit more, and if it was even brighter than that, you might even start seeing some loss of hair detail, like, his ear chopped off. All that stuff hurts really bad. One stop to 1-1/2 stops brighter for that pure white backdrop. And let me talk one more thing about that white backdrop. I'm gonna walk over here. Notice I'm using seamless, let me pull this off so you can see it. The seamless, I think, is critical to getting those pure white backgrounds. You can use reflectors and you can use painted walls in the house, but if they have texture and detail in them, sometimes, it comes through. So, I love seamless for producing that pure white backdrop. Another thing is a cyclorama, in this studio here, we kinda have this cyclorama here in the back, where the CreativeLive symbol is. A typical cyclorama will actually have the white extend out onto the floor, and so, a lot of times, when you're doing full-length portraiture, you want that to extend all the way out here. So, use the white seamless, one to 1-1/2 stops. Walla! Any questions on the white backdrop, Kenna?
Well, I love that you addressed the white paint because that was a question that had come up as well about other types of backdrops than just the white backdrop.
Okay, right on. So now, it's time to bring your friends in for a photo. Cool with having some friends in?
Bring 'em on!
All right, bring 'em on. So now, what I wanna show you is how to do a group photo with multiple flashes, so now it's getting pretty complicated. Lots of moving parts. You might have a mom and a dad and a couple of kids, you might bring a pet on to the scene, and you're trying to manage all the human dynamics. I mean, it's hard enough with one person. I mean, you've been a really tough customer today. No, but sometimes, one person's hard enough. When you bring in four, five, or more? Oh, my gosh, chaos can ensue, so let's do this. Let's do a five-light setup with a group photo. When I do group photos, a lot of times, I like to pose around a central object, or a central theme. I think that orange chair is our perfect centerpiece. So, I'm gonna have you help me out. Just swap out the chairs. Bring in that orange chair, bring it up here. Let's just have this idea, like, one of you is maybe the birthday person, or maybe even the CEO of a company, and the other people are kind of gathering around that one person. You wanna be our CEO?
Or how 'bout birthday?
21 years old this year?
Love it. All right, so you're gonna go and you're gonna sit about here. And now, ideally, we're gonna set up the studio before the people ever get into the studio, but for this scenario, because I'm describing the way everything works, I actually want you guys over here, so come on over. So, you grab a seat, and you're gonna sit kind of in the front, just like we had there. (sighs) You, why don't we, let's see, you're the tallest of the four, so why don't you stand, we'll have you stand in back, just like that. And you two ladies, come over to the sides. Sometimes, I'll have you guys sit, sometimes not, but for this case, I think I'll have you guys stand. So, you come forward, and you come forward a little bit, just like that. Turn your shoulder in, yeah, great. Turn your shoulder in, perfect. All right, and it's a little bit loose for me. Basically, what I wanna do a lot of times is have it nice and tight, but we'll pretend this is a business photo, and you know, business people don't like to be that close. If you were a family, oh, man, you'd all be mushed together, all lovey-dovey. Next thing we gotta think about, background, right? So, here, our white backdrop is only eight feet wide, and that's not quite enough for us, so I'm gonna actually end up swapping it out. I'm gonna go against the bricks. So, since you guys are students and my subjects today, I'm gonna have you help me out. So, we're gonna move this whole studio over to there. Go ahead and move the chair back that way, and we'll pull the lights out away from the wall. (Velcro ripping) I'm taking the grid off because I want a little more coverage. (Velcro ripping) I'll say that again without pulling the grid off. Taking the grid off 'cause I want a little more coverage. I want the light to spread a little bit wider to cover the whole group. Oh, yeah, this is gonna be mo betta. All right, and then I'll use two softboxes in front. You go ahead and grab a seat. Super. Gonna pull this guy off and I'm gonna put it on a taller stand. So, I'm using the softboxes. Umbrellas also work really, really well for this type of a scene. In fact, I often think umbrellas work the best for big group photos. This group isn't too big, so we can get away with softboxes, which kinda keep the light in a smaller area. So, softbox one, Octabox two. And I want you to squeeze together a little bit tighter so I get a good feel for what this looks like. Good, you need to squeeze, I'm kidding. (laughs) I saw you like, "What should I do?" All right, now, we gotta think about the background light. Probably gonna just take two lights off the side, one on this side, one on that side, and they're gonna be hard lights for the background. I like the brick, the brick is pretty cool. We'll pretend this is a brew pub, and this is the background of the brew pub. Okay, raise these up a little bit. I've got the diffusion panels out. And we'll see, I'm gonna actually shoot this with just four lights, and see what that ends up looking like. Okay, go ahead and touch the chair. Yup, great, I like that. You go this way ever so slightly, mm-hmm. Sweet. And the camera, I need one of those. So now is when things get a little more complicated, okay? I've got much more depth of field to deal with here. I've got four people, I've got about four feet of space between your head and his head, so I definitely need more depth of field, probably something like f11 or more. I'm realizing that this chair may not have been the right choice because he is so far forward, and so, I can either try to fumble my way through that, or I can just fix it. And the way I'm gonna fix it is I'm gonna change out to the posing stool, 'cause you're too far forward. So go ahead and throw the orange chair against that side, and now, everyone can kinda gather around. Yeah. Yeah, and it also, what it does, is it puts his head higher and it makes the arrangement of the people so much better, okay. Good. Gotta change one more thing and that is my background lights are in the scene, so pull this one away. There. And that one, we might just be limited on this one 'cause of the house camera. We'll try it. Great, I think we're good. I think it's going to be out of the frame just enough. Yeah, that looks great! Posing groups, again, this is not a posing class, but one of the things I will drop a little hint, typically, when you're posing groups, you want to put the heads in the shape of diamonds or triangles. So, here, I've got a diamond shape for the heads. I'm gonna have you move in your body just a little bit there. Yeah, and you move in slightly, good. Can you come forward a little bit? Yeah, great. Okay. So, let's mix this up. I'm gonna go to f11. Oh, let's see, which camera should I point at? That one there. So, I'm currently at f5.6, so I'm gonna go to f11. F11 changes my photography a little bit, it changes the amount of light coming out of my scene, so I'm gonna have to actually end up increasing the power of those lights. Hey, while you're at it, would you pull the tether table closer to me so I get a little more room to work with? Thank you. So I'm at f11, and I'm going to go to ISO, back up to ISO 400. Now I'm gonna really need more power out of all of these flashes. So, let's try this out. Okay, y'all, one, two, three. (camera clicks) Nice! Nice CEO group. Okay, let's see what that photo looks like inside of Lightroom. Oh, of course, camera not detected. We're gonna try that again. Okay, power down, power it up. There we go, now we're connected. So we'll try that one more time. Okay, one, two, three. (camera clicks) Super. Huh, wow! Mike, what are you doing? Okay, this is great, super, because there's a lot to learn from this scenario. First of all, the background, way too bright! Obviously way too bright. In fact, remember, I forgot to change the power from before, so I probably need to drop those way down to, like, 1/32 power. Also, I've moved these lights in the foreground way farther back, so they need to be ramped up in power. So, background lights down, foreground lights up, in terms of energy, and I'm actually gonna position them a little bit closer. Let's talk through that. I'm gonna put the, we'll call this the softbox, because it is, I'm gonna put that guy at half power. It was at 1/32 power. And move this one in a little bit, and that one's at 1/16, so, again, I'm gonna bring that up to half power. Super. And then those background lights, bring 'em down. These are way more than one stop over. I'm gonna drop that to an 1/8, and I'll put this one over here also at 1/8. So many buttons. Okay. I think we're ready for another shot. You guys doin' okay?
Okay, you look good. Camera is detected? Yes, it is. Focus on the ladies in the middle, great. (camera clicks) And we take that shot. Probably gonna end up reframing it in just a second. See what that, oh, much better! Okay, good, the exposure's coming together. I would say that background's still a little bit bright. Wouldn't you agree? Okay, so we'll end up fixing that in just a second. For the glasses, though, I'm seeing a reflection in the glasses, so do the trick. Yeah, nice trick, love it, and. (camera clicks) Nice! And as that's coming in, I'll go back and reduce the power of those background lights even more. Cool, and that was at 1/8 power, so I'm gonna bring 'em down to 1/32. All right, you can see, I won't spend too much more time on this, but you can see that having multiple people and multiple flashes on set does increase the complexity, but it's not that much more complex, and it's something any of you can do. You all do just fine. All right, you squeeze in just a little bit more. Yup, great. Here we go, one, two, three. (camera clicks) Yeah, do one more. One, two, three. (camera clicks) Happy, happy, happy. Okay. I think we got it. Oh, except I got you, we need to do it until we get your smile just perfect. One more, 'cause you guys are gonna take these home after the class. I'm gonna give some to ya. I want you to be smiling. Oh, I love that smile, by the way! Yes, good, here we go, (camera clicks) and tilt your head in a little bit, like this, look at me. Not that much, but that's the idea. Nose towards me a little bit. Oh, yeah! (camera clicks) Okay, I think that was it, I think we got it. Not perfect, but you get the idea, you get the concept. Oh, yeah! Everybody's smiling. Cool. All right, thank you, group, nice job.
Give yourselves a hand, that was great. (clapping) All right, grab a seat. Before I move on to the next topic, I want to zoom in on this photo and look at the focus. Let me do that before I talk about the details. So, remember, we were at f11, and the goal here at f11 is to get more depth of field. Nice catchlights there. And let's just do this quicker. You're in focus, excellent! I know, everyone loves looking at their face that close. You, focused, super. And you, no reflection in the glasses. Oh, my gosh, it's almost like we planned it this way, and we did! You all at home, you can do this too. You saw all the little things that can crop up and be frustrating in a group photo, but we kinda worked them out one by one, and that's the key, is to be methodical in your approach. Just be methodical. Find the problem, fix that problem. Let's see, what do I want to say about this? The details on this photo is f11, we're at f11. I was still at a 250 of a second, and it was at ISO 400. The foreground flashes, I had to bring up in power. I had to bring them up significantly, and the reason why is because I had moved them farther back. With group photos, a lot of times, you can't do the special lighting effects that you want. You can't do the Rembrandt, really, with a group photo, unless your lighting surface area is like the size of a bus, you know? If it's a huge wall of a building, then it's equally shining on every person, but in this case, we just don't have the surface area to create a Rembrandt-type effect for a group photo. So, I would encourage you not to get too fancy with your lighting with your groups. Yeah, and maybe one other thing that I would mention, if catchlights are important to you, and lots of photographers, they are, you may have noticed that the catchlights, I'm gonna zoom in there on your eye. You may notice that the catchlights, we have one square catchlight and one Octa, or octagonal catchlight. That might bother you. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't, but just think through that as you think about what your foreground lights are gonna be. Maybe you want two softboxes or two umbrellas. That was fun, thank you, guys. Kenna.
Yeah, a quick question had come in from MD Callahan, who says, "The guy in the back, Jeff, "seems to be a little bit less exposed "than the folks in the front." How would you fix that if you were gonna go about doing that? I know he's quite tan as well.
Yeah, you noticed something that's really important when it comes to flash photography, is distance from the flash matters. So, I noticed right away, when I used that orange chair, that that was gonna be a problem because you were sitting, like, four feet in front of Jeff, right? That's way too far, and not only would that be a depth of field issue, with, you know, f11, f16, f22, it would also be a light falloff issue. You would have been washed out, and you would have been, maybe, exposed well, or visa versa, you exposed well, you very dark. So, the solution, there's two solutions for that. Solution one: flatten the group, just like I did. And I wasn't as aggressive about it as I should have been. I was looking at your feet, Jeff, and you actually had, probably, another, maybe three or four inches that you could have come up close to him. I should have actually had your stomach touching his back, and maybe even leaning forward just ever so slightly. That flattens out the distance to the flash units. The other solution, I'm gonna walk over to the TV panel here, the other solution is this. Maybe I bring the light higher so that when it hits the front, it's almost the same distance to the back. Does that make sense? Kinda bring the light higher, I was gonna use the term spherically higher, but I don't even know if that makes sense to me, but you get the idea. The idea is that it would go higher so that it's hitting the front and the back, kind of an equal amount. So, higher lights give you more even distribution of lights, versus the lower the light is, it literally is describing, like Callahan said, more here, less there. I love that question 'cause it's a really technical question and it matters, it really does matter.
Oh, I did wanna say one other thing before I moved on to full-length portraits, and that is just talking through this. Am I able to go back? There we go, thank you, guys. Could we have done that with two lights? Could we have done a group portrait with two lights? Sure, absolutely. And what I would say is if you did have two lights, you should have those lights in the front. They should be foreground lights, and then you're not even gonna really worry about that background, okay? Could you have done it with four lights? Well, we did, and we did just fine with four lights. How about a group photo with five lights? What would we do with that extra fifth light? Hmm. I don't know, I honestly don't know that there's a lot of value in five lights for big group photography. If you could, if you could get that light high enough, I'd put it, maybe, on a boom arm, and it could be a rim light for the background, but that's really hard to pull off, and you need a really long boom arm to get it out over the people. I think that the sweet spot for these group photos is four lights.