Making the Background White − Version I

There several approaches to getting a white background.

Here is the approach I use when shooting models in a studio. It offers a few advantages that I find useful. For one, once the various lights used for the lighting setup are set I can control them all to change the aperture, increase or decrease exposure knowing the relationship will stay the same for the setup. That’s possible because my chosen lights, Einstein E640, have a remote power control capability. For another I can keep the white background exposure just below blown out 255,255,255 to minimize flaring around the subject. The legs and shoulders on the model don’t have the bright highlights to indicate that the background is rim lighting them. Rather they have the natural shading that one expects to add shape.


Here’s a shot from a catalog shoot earlier this year;



It shows right off, that the white background is white.

Here’s how it was accomplished;

  • Two E60s with 8.5″ reflectors were placed on either side of the background. They were far enough behind the model to eliminate any chance for spill from the lights onto the model.
  • The background lights are aimed about 60% of the way toward the other side of the background.
    That seems to make it easier to get smooth lighting.
  • I use a light meter to get the light across the background and from low to high within 1/3 stop. One or 2 10s is best but sometimes space constraints make it difficult to get the lights far enough away.
  • Once the light across the background is smooth, but the two lights into a group so the power will change on each when the power setting is changed for the group.
  • Stand at the T (talent) mark facing the background and take a meter reading of the background as a light source.
    If the planned exposure settings for the shoot are F11 at ISO 200 use that as the setting for the background light source.
  • Next I shoot a test shot of just the background and look at it in Lightroom to confirm that its evenly lit. Also to confirm that at 0EV compensation with the develop sliders it reads about 253, 253, 253. I don’t want it blown out.
  • Once the background is set, I put up the main light and set the exposure to F10
  • Then the fill light to F8
  • Then the accumulative exposure of the two which should be F11. If its a bit hot, I take both the main and fill down until I get F11 for the master exposure.
  • For shoots like this one, the fill is right next to or over the lens axis and the main is about 30 to 45 degrees to camera left. That results in a 1:3 ratio between main and fill. I’ve found that is just about ideal when bringing the raw files into Lightroom. Especially with my import preset which has the develop sliders positioned for optimum dynamic range with my 5DIIIs.
  • Once the main and fill are set, I place them in a group separate from the background lights.
  • Once all the lighting is confirmed and a test shot is made with a color checker for reference. All the lights are put into a single group. This permits changing the exposure without changing the lighting scheme. i.e. If I want to get in close and shoot at a wider aperture, I can just bump down the lighting power to fit the new exposure.
  • When shooting starts, its a simple matter to change the Cyber Commander between groups to adjust background lights, subject lights or all together.

Heres a diagram of the lighting setup;


I really like the Paul C Buff Soft Silver PLM as a main light. I have all three sizes but use the largest most of the time. It permits getting the light back a bit and still works well for fill length shots. A few years ago, before the Einsteins, I had an AB Ringlight with a 36 in Moon Unit that I liked to use for fill. Now I use a mid-sized white PLM with the spill blocker on the back. If possible I like to have its stand just to the right of the lens field of view and the bottom edge just above the top of the frame.

This kind of setup takes a bit of space. The talent is about 10 to 12 feet in front of the white seamless paper. Its the 10 foot wide version to minimize retouching for this shoot. The background lights are about 4 feet behind the talent and the stands are just off the white paper. So minimum width is about 20 feet to permit some room to maneuver around the lights.

For this shoot, and most of the time when doing the white background setup, there are two 4×8 sheets of white tile board on the floor. The one closest to the background overlaps the white paper. The forward sheet overlaps the backward sheet. Given the lighting that tends to eliminate the seam in the image or makes it very easy to clone out.

For this shoot I used a Canon 70-200mm F2.8 IS II on my 5DIII. I wanted to have at least 120 to 150mm and a lower camera angle to accentuate the model’s height. (Some mild squeezing was done in Photoshop with the Liquify Tool as well.) That was one of the Art Director’s requests for the session.

This approach even works well for white on white as illustrated in this image;


Good shooting and have fun.