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    Hi. I’d be really grateful of any advice on the following. So I’m converting my garage into a little home studio – for family, babies, maternity etc. photography. And am looking at backdrops and backdrop supports. After researching I am thinking to get a white vinyl (reasons being is more durable and easier to clean and is more likely to get messed up quicker – i.e. kids running on it etc. And a black paper roll – I figure this can be paper as it doesn’t need to go on the floor so much (I’m thinking low key maternity shots etc.)

    But I keep coming across the idea to just use an 18% grey backdrop – which could be vinyl as I’d only need to buy one. And then under exposure or over expose to get it black or white. That sounds like a cheaper option but also more complicated. So my question is does anyone have any experience of doing this – is it a good idea or a bit of a faff? If you over or under expose wouldn’t the exposure of the subject be incorrect?




    If you have enough separation between subject and background, and you light subject and background separately, then you can over or under expose the background without affecting your subject.

    I have a 4 section backdrop stand that is 12 feet wide, plus a bit for the feet.  I usually only use two or three sections depending on where it is set up.  Paper and canvas backdrops come in varying widths, and at varying prices.  Larger/more permanent studios have two, three, or more, rolls of seamless mounted on the ceiling with chains looped on sprockets to roll them up and down.  This saves time and space compared to hand rolling one up, taking everything apart, changing the roll, and unrolling the new colour.   A stand is practical if the space is not permanent, and probably less expensive.

    I have not tried vinyl backdrops, just paper and painted canvas.  If you decide to get painted canvas, photograph it with a flash to see what it looks like.  I think they look much better when lit, it really changes their appearance.  I would worry about vinyl being too reflective, but perhaps that’s not a problem if they are in general use.

    If you want to see the effect of 18% grey before purchasing, find a concrete wall that is unpainted.  Experiment with that, it will be close enough.


    But I keep coming across the idea to just use an 18% grey backdrop

    NOOOOOOOOO! It won’t work, you’ll have to flood the background with light to get it to go white and unless you nail them down, kids will keep running into the bright zone making the effect you’re after impossible.

    One thing to watch out for is that Vinyl is REALLY heavy and you won’t be able to support it on cheap light stands plus it creases badly if you don’t look after it (guilty!) and you can never get it flat again.

    But with a little effort I tracked down a local ish company that repairs bouncy castles and got a piece of WHITE vinyl 9tf by 15ft at about half the cost of buying it from a photo dealer.


    I have no idea if I could use a grey backdrop and turn it black or white, but I’m pretty sure anyone can turn a white backdrop grey.  I’m a freakin master at that one :p lmao one of the many wtf ?!  moments every beginner has.


    Thanks everyone that’s a great help. So it looks like grey wouldn’t work for 2 reasons as my garage wouldn’t be big enough to get the adequate space for the sitter to be placed from it, and it wouldn’t work with kids anyway. The concrete wall test is a good idea though CC, and I will try that anyway as an exercise is exposure 🙂

    The amount of weight the support can hold is something I’m worrying about and even though there are cheap supports from about £50 on the net, I have nightmares they will just collapse mid shoot! Can you recommend a sturdy support, WCS, for vinyl – the manfrotto one looks quite solid, I don’t have pro studio funds but for safety reasons I don’t want to scrimp on that.

    Also, can I ask, when you say you have to look after it probably, don’t you just roll it back up when you’re finished? Sorry, if that’s a dumb question. I will ring round bouncy castle places too – that was a great saving and a clever idea!

    LOL – me too IHF – or turn it yellow, blue, green etc by using the wrong WB 😉



    I’ve had good experiences with pixapro stuff as a better than bargain basement but cheaper than the more known brands. It isn’t quite as nice as say bowens but certainly good enough if you don’t need to disassemble their softboxes every day


    Thanks Nesgran, I’ll check them out 🙂


    I have a painted canvas backdrop that came in a large cardboard tube. The canvas is through a split dowel at each end, so it just rolls and unrolls.

    This is water in a white bowl, with a pattern around the edge, in front of a piece of white foam core.
    so is this
    and this
    and this



    I have something like this. The bracket holds the weight no problem but the vinyl is to heavy for a cardboard seamless tube. (it starts to bend in the middle) so I replaced it with a plastic gutter pipe. The problem now is that it’s too heavy to wind up using the plastic chains, they either break or jump the teeth. So I have to wind it up by hand which takes a minute or so. So if I’m in the middle of a portrait shoot and the I want to clear the floor I tend to just loosely roll it along the floor. If you then leave it over night, the weight turns the loose folds into permanent creases!


    Thanks CC, they look great, especially the last one! – I feel embarrassed to ask but how did you get the same background such vivid and different colours?

    Thanks WCS, that looks very sturdy – and pretty reasonable too. So you store them upright overnight?


    It’s all in where the lights are placed and how bright they are.  Those were all done with one or two 600 EX RT Speedlites and some coloured gels.  The bottom one had a single Speedlite placed below the bowl firing into the bottom of it, sort of using the bowl as the front of a softbox or shoot through umbrella.   Shoot through bowl, instead!

    The one above that had fairly high power, but the lights, one with red and one with blue gel, were facing toward the camera, 45° across the camera axis.  No light hitting the white background, so it is black.

    As the lights are turned more and aimed perpendicular to the camera axis, there is more spill onto the background, so it brightens and takes on the colour the gel provides.   The colour gets deeper if flash power is reduced.   The first one had the flash with blue gel aimed more toward the background and the red gel aimed across the splash.  The second one used the same blue gel but the red gel was replaced with a yellow one.  Angles and power were changed.

    As an afterthought, I took a photo of the setup, after camera and flashes were removed.  It is on Flickr.  It just shows tripod head, bowl, background and water source.  I have some of another setup, but I was using a different bowl and  the flash did not have a gel because I was using a coloured background to colour the water.


     So you store them upright overnight?

    No they stay on the wall all the time, I do have a wall painted grey (kinda like you were thinking) but I’d still pull the vinyl down if I wanted a white background.


    One of the other forums wants a “new” photo, subject can be anything. OK, so I’m lazy! The bowl was still in place, I added some water to the dripper, set some lights and the camera, again.

    This is the setup

    And, this is the result

    This happens to be close-up photography, but the same thing applies to portraits. You can do exactly the same thing with white seamless and a person, you just have to make sure the lights for your subject don’t strike the seamless or they will wash out the colour. You probably want white light on your subject, or CTO or 1/2 CTO, if you want to balance incandescent room lights too.


    Thanks WSC! Sorry for all the questions!

    Thanks CC – I have to try that – seeing the set up is really interesting – amazing how you get from just a bowl on a sink to such images! Inspirational 🙂



    Karl Taylor’s studio has a seamless background roller system.  You can see it at about 8:10 in this video, and again around 8:14.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-gIhidB6cE

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