How to Isolate Your Subject and Eliminate Distraction With a Photo Backdrop
Think Before you Click: Distracting Elements - Episode 1 : PhotoRec Toby
One of the most common mistakes that people make when taking pictures is leaving clutter in the background. You may not think that it's a big deal to have some trees behind a person while you're taking a portrait or to leave items on the counter while you're photographing a project that you made. These issues don't necessarily ruin a photo, but they can keep a good photo from being a great photo. Taking the time to eliminate distractions allows you to separate the subject from the background, helping viewers to focus on the subject.
It may seem like an obvious concept to eliminate distractions in a photo, and it is, but it still takes time and practice for it to become routine practice. Make a conscious effort to remove distracting elements from your photo compositions. Before you know it, you'll be doing it without even thinking about it.
How I took out the distracting elements in the above photos
In the above examples, I have essentially the same shot with a distracting background versus a clean background. The distracting background photos aren't terrible. I shot them on a sunny day with plenty of natural lighting. I used the proper manual camera settings and composed the shots decently. In both photos, I fill the frame with the subject, which makes you notice the distracting background less that you would otherwise. However, being able to see other items in the background is still distracting.
In comparison, the photos on the right have no distracting elements. The fix here couldn't be more simple. The only difference in the left and right photos is that I placed foam core backdrops underneath and behind the subjects. While getting rid of distracting elements isn't always this straightforward, seeing how much of a difference it makes should get you thinking about ways to take out distracting elements in your own photos.
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One of the most frequent ways that I use backdrops is for my product photography.
The first time that I started using backdrops to eliminate distraction was when I got serious about improving my product photography. My go to product photo backgrounds are white poster board, gray felt rectangles (I use two different shades), and sheet music. All of these products are inexpensive and readily available, which means that any of them are great options if you're just starting to use backdrops and you don't need anything too big.
My product photography backdrops in action.Click thumbnail to view full-size
For years, I've had my lightbox fitted with white poster board. Recently I also fitted it with black poster board to expand my solid backdrop options.Click thumbnail to view full-size
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I used a wood patterned paper from Michaels, but you can also buy it online.
My foam core backdrops
For the past five years, I've been using a lightbox for all of my product photography and many smaller shoots for my blog, HubPages articles, and other varying projects. It has been an amazing tool that has allowed me to take my product photos and small scale styled shoots to a whole new level.
The biggest limitation with the lightbox is its size. For some time, I've known that I needed to expand my artificial lighting options. After much research and deliberation, I decided to make a pair of imitation Lowel Ego Lights using this tutorial. These lights provide much higher wattage than my lightbox lights. I could have created a set up for them with white poster board or foam core, but I don't love shooting on pure white. So I made the following two backdrops.
- Faux chalkboard. I was a little weary about faux chalkboard because it's so trendy right now. I don't want my photos to look like every other blog and catalog. However, the effect of this tutorial is so subtle. As a background, you don't even really think about the fact that it looks like a chalkboard. I used a tutorial from Whipperberry.
- Faux wood. Many people are somewhat dismayed to learn that many photographers use fake wood backdrops. Why faux wood instead of real wood? In many instances, it's much lighter, which is very convenient if you want to use your backdrop in multiple locations. Faux wood may seem gimmicky. However, with a high quality wood print, it's virtually impossible to tell the difference in a photo. I used a tutorial from Mama to 5 Blessings.
More photo examples with my faux chalkboard and faux wood backdrops during a recent shoot for another HubPages article.Click thumbnail to view full-size
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I also used my new faux chalkboard backdrop for my HubPages Filofax article photos.Click thumbnail to view full-size
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Options for making and buying backdrops
The possibilities for making and buying photography backdrops are virtually endless. How do you know where to start? Think about the types of shooting that you do and look for options within your budget. You don't need to buy or make all of the photo backdrops that you'll ever need all at once. Start with one or two backdrops and then build from there. The following options will get you started.
- Poster board. Poster board is inexpensive and readily available in every big box store, craft store, and teacher supply store. The most common colors are black and white, but it does come in other colors. It is easy to cut poster board into the size and shape that you need to serve as a viable backdrop.
- Felt rectangles. Most craft stores sell 8.5 x 11 felt rectangles as well as select larger sizes in varying colors for less than $1.00 a piece. Michaels often has the 8.5 x 11 rectangles for around 30 cents each. 8.5 x 11 may seem way too small for photo backdrops, but it's perfect for small scale product shoots. Additionally, if you want to use felt as a large backdrop, you can buy it by the yard at fabric stores.
- Fabric. Fabric comes in every color, print, texture, and weight imaginable. If you're shooting close up, it can be tedious to take care of fabric so that wrinkles and stray threads don't show up in the photos. If you're shooting portraits or larger styled shoots, you don't have to worry as much about these imperfections.
- Foam core. I used foam core for the faux chalkboard and faux wood backdrops that I featured in this article. Recently I've found the best prices on 20" x 30" foam core at Target, which carries white and black. Foam core isn't as durable as vinyl, but it's still great for styled shoots that don't involve food.
- Vinyl. Vinyl is the photo backdrop material of choice for professional photographers, and it's not hard to see why. Vinyl doesn't wrinkle or rip easily, and you can wipe it clean as needed (i.e. after accidentally dripping food while documenting a new recipe, after photographing a birthday cake smash). If you're looking for vinyl resources, I've linked a couple of the most popular Etsy backdrop shops on the right.
- Miscellaneous DIY tutorials. There are a wealth of DIY ideas for creating your own photography backdrops on the cheap. People use everything from book pages to crepe paper to records to wrapping paper. Search "DIY photo backdrop" on Pinterest to get you started.
Are there other materials that you use for your photo backdrops? Feel free to leave them in the comments!
More photography resources from the author.
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© 2015 Rose Clearfield
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