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Photography Lesson: Achieving Perfect White Backgrounds

Updated on August 2, 2012

One of the most desired background effects in today's world of photography is the stark white background. Its modern, its clean and its in demand. Achieving a perfect white background is great for several reasons:

  • Its in demand from customers
  • You can expand the background easily
  • You can do an easy "cut-out"
  • Easy to change backgrounds
  • Stock photography web sites love white backgrounds
  • The images can be easily used on websites

The tricky part of white backgrounds is that they have to be really really white. This means they are actually "blown out" by a few stops. Anything less and you'll see some artifacts of shadow and perhaps creases in the background fabric or other issues.

The traditional method of lighting for a pure white background is for putting tons of light on white painted wall, white paper or cloth background and positioning the model or object closer to the camera so no shadows fall on the background.

The exposure is taken for the main subject and the background is exposed at 1 or 2 stops more than the main subject. Its tricky business because you have to watch for overflow of light bouncing off the background and on to the subject.

In close quarters it can be nearly impossible to light the set without having shadows show up on the background. Adobe Photoshop or other photo editing software can be used to cut out the subject or lessen the shadows that that takes a lot of time, a steady hand and skill.

A better way is to use a huge softbox so that the entire background is lit to the extent that any shadow is overpowered by the light coming from the softbox. The subject is exposed correctly and the background is powered to two stops more than the subject. In this situation the subject can be very close to the background. Again its a matter of balancing the light so that the light from the background doesn't over power the subject lighting.

The Lastolit company makes a line of products called the "Hilite". These are free standing softboxes in very large sizes in which studio lights or flash stobes are placed. The light bounces around inside the box and produces a bright white background. Much brighter than cloth, paper or any other unlit background. With the Hilite you can achieve the desired blown out background that is in demand.


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    • TrahnTheMan profile image

      TrahnTheMan 5 years ago from Asia, Oceania & between

      Good point. And making it look at least semi-professional would be a challenge too I imagine.

    • peanutroaster profile image

      peanutroaster 5 years ago from New England

      Yes, you can DIY a light box, but making it fold into a bag and be portable is rather tricky for a DIYer.

    • TrahnTheMan profile image

      TrahnTheMan 5 years ago from Asia, Oceania & between

      Very helpful hub. I'm sure Lastolite make great products but it's worth mentioning that you can DIY light boxes for very cheap, pending how big your subjects are.