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How to Create a Black Backdrop for Outdoor Photo Shoots With Only Your Camera

Updated on December 15, 2015
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years. Hope you enjoy my hubs!

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CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

Ever seen people that appear as if standing in a totally black void with no visible floor or anything on which they are standing and asked yourself how can this be done except without some digital work?

It is simpler than one may think and you really only need one strobe flash unit, a grid plus a space that allows your subject to stand about 7 to 10 feet away from any background/backdrop or wall.

Even if the shot is not perfect and some backgrounds elements are visible, this can easily be corrected in Photoshop or any other digital manipulation software program.

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CC BY 2.0 | Source

Find an open location with a solid wall preferably a shaded location and if the background or wall is dark then even better.

Place your subject away from the background and illuminate it with one main flash unit attached to a grid and placed above the subject at a 45 to 55 degree angle (not mounted on your camera).

So what is a grid exactly? it is a simple device that looks like a "honeycomb" or a flat board with hundreds of square or round small holes. This diffuses the light enough so that the distance the light travels from the flash outburst is shortened.

Mount your camera on a tripod and set the ISO (film speed) at about 200. The flash burst should be rather fast but enough to allow the recording of the main image.

Because the subject is far from the backdrop and the burst of light is fast, the film or digital sensor will capture the illuminated subject and not much else.

This also means that you should use a shutter speed calibrated for the flash burst. a combination of 1/125 speed with a 5.6 f-stop works well.

Several GOBOs (the grid is the one with the wires)

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CC BY-SA 3.0 | Source

Assuming you have a fast camera and lens, a grid which you can make yourself then a strobe which can cost around $200 or more depending on the quality, it will be enough since as light travels it falls in intensity and this is what creates the illusion of your model being in a black void.

The need for a grid is that with it the light is much more tight and defined.

But don't worry if you can't afford one. There are many sites that provide instructions in making your own DIY grids, especially to use on a flash head.

For this technique to work properly you need to make sure that the light falls only on the subject and very little of it,if any hits any other surface. Focusing or setting the flash for about a 70mm dispersal should be sufficient.

This can be accomplished in a studio off course by using a black backdrop but this way you can basically do the same anywhere with less gear than what you would actually need for studio shoots.

Compare the gear needed for a similar studio shoot; besides the camera, you would need at least three lights; two for the model, one for the backdrop (to eliminate shadows) plus a large enough backdrop to cover enough distance behind the model as well as on the floor.

While typical studio shots need more light, here you actually need less light. A contradiction to all photography rules but this way it works best.

By controlling where the light falls and controlling the shutter speeds you basically have created a void where there should be none.

A strobe puts out more light but for a very short time. Light bounces off the subject but there is no time for the shutter to record anything else than this immediate illumination.

This together with using a shallow depth of field (f-stop) setting, should be all that is needed.

This type of shoot is ideal for capturing movement like the routine performed by dancers.

The idea is to showcase the subject as if moving withing a completely black void.

Static subjects work well too but other factors play a bigger part in the overall makeup of the scenery such as fashion and makeup although it can work really well for nature shots such as the leaves if you want to take the shot when you come upon it instead of taking the subject into a studio but you still need to use a shallow depth of field and an isolated specimen.

So here is the basic outdoor (or indoor) set up; One dedicated slave flash strobe on a tripod (not on the camera) with a grid on its face, a subject that can stand at least 7 to 10 feet away from any wall or other backdrop, and your camera pre set with a shallow f-stop.

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© 2015 Luis E Gonzalez

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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image
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      Luis E Gonzalez 3 years ago from Miami, Florida

      peachpurple: Thank you and yes a black backdrop works best in many situations, especially when you want to isolate and highligth a particular subject like in macro

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      using dark colors as back drop is the best

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