How do you get a solid black background

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by alicia macfarland, Jan 11, 2007.

  1. Hi,
    I'm new to setting up a studio in my basement and want to achieve total black
    background. I have two speedotron lights (1200 W/S power supply) with two
    umbrellas, one silver and one white, using a Canon 10D. So now, I am trying
    to figure out how to set this all up. I have black paper background. I tried
    using the two lights approx at different angles from subject 4 feet away from
    background, but it's still turning out a varied color of grey-black depending on
    the light that's hitting it. Do the lights need to be further in front of my
    subject? I do not yet have a light meter, but if this will likely be getting one
  2. Your background needs to be farther behind your subject. If the room is small with low ceiling and the walls are a light color it is hard to avoid light spilling onto the background. Try for at least 8 ft from the subject to the background.
  3. As Brooks said.

    Also, black paper is less than ideal. The ideal is black velvet (real black velvet, not a velvet lookalike) or black flock. Respectively, they reflect around 5% and 4% or the light reflected from them. Black paper reflects far more than this.
  4. Light falls off with the square of the distance. What this means for your case is, you want to get the lights as close as possible to your subject, and have your subject as far as possible from the background. The larger the ratio between lights-to-background-distance and lights-to-subject-distance, the less light (relatively) will fall on your background.

    Also, umbrellas tend to throw light all over the place, so you're going to see a bit more light spill on the background using them over, say, a smaller softbox.

  5. try this... 1 of 3 ways... the simple way... back your subject and lights up about 2x's as far away from your background than you are now... that should decrease the amount of light reaching your bg down to 25% of the previous amount!

    try this... the complex way (but works if your space is very limited)... dial down the output of your main light or whatever light(s) you think is hitting your bg... then simply feather (turn the light on its axis) away from directly hitting your subject. (Your using umbrellas... they throw light in a very wide span. Feathering them (twisting them untill the subject is being lit by more of the edge of the umbrella instead of the center will reduce the "spill light" from banging into your background. Just use a lens hood or block the light with your hand or even just tape a piece of black construction paper alongside your lens somehow to block it out.

    For example I did this technique and I had the mainlight practically aimed directly at me so that the edge of the umbrella was lighting my subject. I had to use a lens hood so that all that stray light wouldnt blast into my lens from the side and cause lens flare! Remember, feathering the light means your lighting using the falloff of the light (center brighter and edges less) to light your subject. You'll have to experiment cause you dont have a meter. Ebay get the shepard polaris meter for $159 its all the kinda meters in the world at a low cost price! If you can find a used flash meter... get it quick!
  6. I tend to use spot lights or barn doors when I want black backgrounds since any light at all on the black backdrop will cause it to become gray. I also try to light my subject from the extreme side as much as possible.
  7. Hello Alicia, Just to expand a bit on what others have said. A basement is a good location that can have windows easily covered. If it is long enough set up your studio at one end with a temporary archway approx midway. Have all source of light off in the area behind subjects. A cover of cheap black cloth hung in front of any thing that produces a back ground highlights. The combination of distance the background and the archway will control spill from your lighting. And remember it doesn't mater what any of these props look like as long as they do the job and are not in the final probuct. Good luck D.D.
  8. Once you get your light meter, you are looking for a about a 4 stop difference between your exposure and the reading on the backdrop.
  9. ... and as a temporary workaround, trying bringing up the shadow level a little bit in Photoshop. Few are the photos that don't look better (at least to me) with the shadow slider brought up at least a point or two, and it will help with your background as well.

  10. Hi Alicia, You might try Photek's "Blackest Black" backdrops. They look like black velvet but aren't as expensive. I believe either Adorama or B&H carries them. Keep your subjects as far as possible from the background and don't illuminate the backdrop like you would using seamless white paper. Example: Good luck!
  11. Cunning lamp positioning and use of flags can help if space is restricted. All above responses are valid. It's all a compromise when space is limited.
  12. Hello Alicia

    As the other members indicated, all their answers are valid and effective. I just complete the same setup as yours with far less wattage (500w Key, 250 Fill + SB-800 hairlight) in the same kind of basement and I was having the same issues. My room makes 12' x 14' appx. Here is the link to illustrate the following explanations:

    What I did first is make sure my 3' x 4' softboxe was not spilling to the background so I place my subject (my kid) at 8 feet away from the black background. Then I place my Soft-Boxe at 45 degree, to my right, 3' from my subject (11 ft from the background) at F8.

    Then at 45 degree to the left of my kid, I placed a fill light (250 Watts) with a std reflector at F5.6. To make sure both lights did not spill to the background I place a 2' x 3' black panel to be used as a Flag or barndoor if you want! Since both light are at 45 degree, they do not reach the background.

    Finally, I used a hairlight with my SB-800 (F9) with a snoot attached to the ceiling at 45 degree on the back of my kid to create some light in the hair.

    I measure the amount of light that reach the background and I was at F2.8.

    I do get a solid black background as you can see on these series of pictures with an idea of my setup. Now I do plan to paint my ceiling Mid-grey to eliminate the reflections on my white walls and ceiling.

    If you do have a wide-angle, take a picture of you setup from all the corners of your room and you will see how much light spills on the ceiling and background it helps a lot.

    The final recommandation would be to not use umbrellas but smaller soft-boxe or beauty dish with flags on top of them and on one side to avoid spillage on the background. The last trick, keep your modeling light on, and walk from the back of your studio to see if you can have a direct view of your modeling lights from the back. If you do see light, you get spillage, use a biger flag or adjust the angle. A longer studio is easier.

    Good luck!

Share This Page