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Up Your Photography Game with the Perfect Backdrop

Image: Isabella Porto via Savage

So, you’ve invested in some strobes and you’re in the process of setting up your studio. Creative control is now in your hands. One of the essential features of a good photograph is the background. Selecting the right backdrop is the easiest way to add personality and style to your studio photography and videos. The backdrop behind your subject can make or break your image. When you get it right, your image stands out, however, if you’ve looked at a picture and something’s a little off but you can’t quite put your finger on it, it’s probably the background choice. One of the secrets of any successful photographer is paying attention to what’s behind your subject. Choosing the right background for your subject can be just as important as choosing the right lens for the shot.

The conditions in which you shoot are not always ideal, sometimes there is too little or too much contrast in the background, sometimes the background is uninspiring or not clean, sometimes the kind of look or theme you want is not achieved because of the background. Getting a photography backdrop solves all of these dilemmas, and will help you take better pictures for work, for business, or even your hobbies. Using a backdrop takes the guesswork out of how much light to use, what background is ideal, and can significantly improve the quality of your shots.

Image: Caleb & Gladys via Savage

Whether you’re setting up a pro studio or a makeshift one in your spare bedroom, you’re definitely going to need a quality backdrop or two. We’ve got some good news for you. As the official South African distributor of Savage Universal Backdrops and products, Cine Photo Tools has the widest selection of paper backdrops in every size and colour, with an affordable price-tag to boot. We also stock an array of muslin, canvas, vinyl, and collapsible backdrops.

Seamless paper backdrops produce a clean look. You can modify background colours with lighting, and the images can be easily cut out if you want to replace the background. Seamless paper provides a smooth, sweeping look because there is no visible line between the floor and the background. This makes it ideal for studio use and product photography. It’s like using an infinity curve/ Cyc wall but without the high cost and labour involved in changing the colour.  It also means that you can control the lighting and background of the picture without having to invest in high-end photography equipment, which is also perfect for budding photographers, entrepreneurs, and anyone who just wants to take great pictures.

So, if you are and starting out, you may be surprised at how easy and affordable it is to up your game with a good quality paper backdrop. If you are a pro photographer with backdrops in your arsenal already, there’s always room to expand your collection and get creative!

  1. How do I choose the right seamless paper size?

Being prepared for the variety of photo shoots that come your way can be challenging. You may have to shoot a portrait of a single person, a large family, or even a pet. Perhaps you’re shooting products or food. How you shoot and what you shoot will affect your decision, as will your budget.

Choosing the appropriate seamless paper size will take some effort and consideration on your part. What does a typical photo shoot look like for you? Do you tend to capture head shots, or photograph families – or do it all? Will there be lots of movement on set, for example, when shooting pets, kids, live action? Do you shoot small or large products? How big is your studio? Can it handle a 3.5m+ paper roll, or do you shoot in a spare bedroom with limited space? 

Fortunately, Savage Seamless Paper Backdrops make it super simple to fit your backdrop to both your subject matter and shooting style.

 What colours do I need?

The science behind colour affects how we perceive light. Colour and light work hand in hand. Colours can also evoke emotion and help tell a story in photography. Your choice of background can add context to your image or it can lend emotion and feeling to a shot. Principles of colour theory — deeply rooted in nature — help us to understand how colours interact with each other, for example similar colours create calming harmony, while contrasting colours draw in our attention. Photography backdrops are essential in photo shoots because they can set the mood of the image. Backdrops are designed to enhance the subject of your picture either by providing contrast or blending into the background, you end up with crisp and professional-looking pictures all the time. Choosing and using the right colours lets you to communicate, allowing people to digest the message that the photo is trying to convey. Luckily, Savage paper backdrops come in over 50 shades to choose from, so you can create the perfect mood or effect.

Whether creating vibrant fashion looks, serene baby portraits, or powerful corporate head shots, your subject’s background plays an important part in the impact of your final image.

Some questions to consider:

•         Who are your subjects?

•         What energy do you want to convey?

•         Will you light your background directly, or will it be lit by ambient light?

•         How and where will your images be displayed?

If you’re just starting to build up your studio, we recommend having three or more backdrop colours on hand to offer clients a variety of backgrounds to complement the look or aesthetic they are going for.

Neutral backdrops are great for photographing very busy or colourful subjects. White, grey, and black seamless are studio staples that never go out of style. Grey is particularly flexible in that with a little effort, you can turn your grey backdrop into white, black or pretty much any colour you can imagine (using lighting gels.)

What you want to do in post-production, especially when shooting video, might also influence your background choice, like green screen projects.

The Bold: Bright, vibrant colours convey energy, positivity, and youthfulness.

The Beautiful: Soft, neutral hues add depth to your image while highlighting your subject’s features without distraction. These shades are ideal for fashion and beauty campaigns, as well as corporate shots.

Set the scene by going organic: Warm, rustic colours are good for cosy autumn portraits. Cool pastel greens, blues, and sandy tones make great beachy backdrops for summertime themes.

Celebrate the occasion: Whether it’s Christmas or Halloween, infuse your images with colours of the season.

How do I hang my paper backdrop?

A decent stand makes it easy to arrange your background behind the subject. Savage background stands are portable, and simple to set up indoors or outside. Cine Photo Tools offers a selection of stands.

The Savage 12 x 12 ft Background Stand is lightweight, yet strong enough to hold the large seamless paper rolls (as well as large fabric/muslin backdrops) as it can extend to 12′ (3.6576m) wide and 12′ (3.6576m) tall.

The Savage Port-A-Stand is lightweight and can go just about anywhere, as it easily folds up to fit into a 52” long carrying case for easy transport to your location shoots. The Port-A-Stand is a generous 10′ 7″ wide and 9′ 7″ high, meaning it can accommodate the popular sized 2.72m X11m seamless paper rolls or fabric of similar width, and strong enough to even hold vinyl backdrops. It’s the perfect solution for shooting out of studio.

To hang your backdrop, slide the crossbar through your new paper roll and then secure the crossbar to the two upright stands. Don’t forget to secure the backdrop – Spring Clamps come in handy to keep your backdrops from unravelling any more than you want it to, preventing creases and dents in your paper. So have a clamp or two ready to go before unrolling.

If you plan to sweep your backdrop out onto the floor for full-body shots, tape the ends to the ground with gaffer tape to ensure it stays flat and does not roll up. This will keep your set looking smooth and professional, and prevent any tripping hazards. The resin and natural rubber compound in the gaffer tape allows for a clean removal with no residue.

For narrow, lightweight backdrops you can be resourceful by hanging them from a light stand. This can help save floor space if required. It can also come in handy when designing creative sets incorporating multiple rolls.

Looking for a more simple or economical option? Simply cut off just enough paper to fill the frame and tape or pin it to your wall. This works well for head shots or vlogging.

If you want your seamless paper to last, don’t walk on it with dirty shoes. Because it is paper, you need to be aware of dirty or wet footwear because they leave marks and can damage the paper. Invest in shoe covers for you and your team or wear socks.  Once it’s time to start shooting, make sure to clean off your model’s shoes before he/she steps on the paper. If it does get too scuffed or damaged, simply cut off the dirty piece and roll out more (remember, Savage paper is 100% recyclable.)

Store your Savage paper rolls upright in a dry place to prevent warping, waves, or ripples in the paper. Also, don’t leave your backdrop hanging on a stand. After each session, roll the paper back up tightly and evenly.

Are paper backdrops your only solution?

While paper backdrops are probably the most versatile, there are multiple types of backdrops, and they function quite similarly:

Muslin

Muslin backgrounds have stood the test of time across photography studios for decades. The backdrops are constructed from a cotton fabric. They come in various sizes and dyed in a single or mottled colours, or they are hand painted. They are lightweight, durable, very portable, and generally look good. Muslin tends to be less reflective than paper rolls as it absorbs more light than it reflects, so it can be easier to light. A great feature is that you can easily wash them if soiled (you may need to get the larger sizes commercially cleaned.) The backdrops are simple to bundle up and transport. These qualities make them one of the ‘greenest’ and most cost-effective backdrops, as they are easy to take care of and can be used over and over again.

An industry standard, Savage’s muslin backdrops are made of top-quality cotton. The colouring is consistent throughout the surface, and they do not easily wrinkle.

Image: Mike McGee via Savage

Muslin backdrops can look modern or retro, depending upon the style of lighting, and they’re a great addition to every photographer’s arsenal of backdrops. The material can be used as a background when hung flat or can be draped over surfaces to transform the look of a picture.

Like paper, you can use longer muslin as flooring for the subject. Solid colours function much like seamless paper, but you need to be cautious about folds in the muslin as they can be distracting from the subject.

Vinyl

Many images are suitable for a vinyl backdrop, but this form is limited to the vertical surface in the background. Separate flooring is needed. Vinyl backdrops are washable and durable, so great for children, dogs, food, spray images etc. because the clean up is easy. Also, they are quite pliable so they can be moved about without much difficulty. Vinyl backdrops can certainly withstand the test of a busy, high-volume studio!

Image: Leigh Demshar via Savage

One thing you need to be aware of when shooting with a Vinyl backdrop, is that they can be a little reflective, so you need to be cautious about how your lights are set up.

“As I was wiping dog hair, slobber, and bits of string cheese off of the vinyl with a wet cleaning cloth, I thought to myself (actually, I was alone at the studio, and said it out loud to nobody), WOW! This is amazing. On traditional seamless paper, I would have been slicing off the evidence of the session from the roll, getting it ready for the recycle bin. Instead, with a simple wipe, the vinyl was clean and ready for next time.  Fabulous! If I don’t have to throw it away, I am getting more bang for my background buck.” –  Leigh Demshar on using Vinyl backdrops.

Canvas

canvas backdrops are the perfect choice for the studio-based photographer because of their long lifespan and versatile usage. While they may seem a little more costly than their paper counterparts, a high-quality canvas backdrop can provide a great return on your investment.

Image: Yev Z Photography via Savage

Savage canvas backdrops are made in the USA, with a unique multi-layering process that backs the canvas with a blackout centre to prevent light from passing through and then a layer of vinyl on the very back for extra durability. The backdrops are mounted to a heavy-duty aluminium core. Their matte finish means no glare.

Photographic doyens such as  Richard Avedon, and Joel Peter-Witkin are all fans of the canvas backdrop, and of course there is Annie Leibowitz’s canvas backdrop signature look.

The painted canvas backdrops from Savage are lush in texture and quality with a sophisticated background pattern that is subtle enough to complement many styles of portraiture and add to the richness of your image. This texturing not only creates a unique look, but it also changes the way light interacts with the backdrop.  

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