A simple white seamless background is a very versatile tool for you to have whether you are doing photography or video. In this video I walk you through the space considerations, gear needed, and how exposure and light works when taking a white seamless from black to white. For this first part we use hot lights to show all of this in real time. It’s also useful if you are wanting to set this up for video. In part two I walk you through the same process but with strobes for still photography.

This sort of thing requires a bit of space. My current studio has an area that is 16 feet wide by 30 feet long and that’s about as small of a space as I’d want to work in for full length white seamless shoots. I’ve set this up in a variety of locations from board rooms to parking decks to 5,000 square foot studios and I can say that the more room you have and the wider of a white background you have (read cyc wall) then the easier all of this is to do. As your space shrinks challenges to this are introduced. When you light up that big white background it becomes a huge light source that starts lighting up everything around it. The smaller the space you have the more light you will have bouncing and wrapping around, and it can sometimes be difficult to get it under control.

white-seamless-set

You’ll see in the video above that I’m not using white seamless paper right now. Instead I use a Photo Basics 9′ x 20′ High Key background made by Westcott. I love this background. I call it a cyc-in-a-sac. It’s basically a machine washable roll of seamless that is far easier to transport than a roll of seamless. This is also FAR better than just a white muslin background since the material stretches and that means wrinkles are instantly gone. With muslin you need to stretch it, then steam it, then stretch it some more, and if you need to do a full sweep you can’t get the floor area completely flat and wrinkle free with muslin. You can with this Photo Basics background and a few sandbags to stretch it flat on the floor.

For gear I highly suggest no fewer than three lights. You need two for the background and one for your subject. You can cheat it with two lights but you’ll either be stuck with doing 3/4 body to headshots by hiding that background light behind your subject or you’ll have more work to do in post to clean up the background and floor area if you are doing full length. There are ways of doing full length with two lights and two lights only but it’s a compromise or it requires a big ass stand and a big ass boom to fly that background light out over your set. If you have that big of a stand, and that big of a boom, I’m going to guess you probably have more than two lights because… reasons.

Strobes make this whole process easier but this look can be achieved with hotshoe flashes. If you have three hotshoe flashes you can pull this off. I have done it many many times, but I’ll choose strobes for this application over hotshoe flashes if I have that option. For the video we used three simple 750w Lowel Tota lights. Two on the background and one shot through a diffusion panel for the subject.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 2.37.22 PM

Tomorrow part two will be posted and we’ll get more into exposure and changing the background from white to black along with the post production process I do on these images.

If you have any questions about space and gear or the specific topics covered in the video above just drop them in the comments below!

ETA – Part two of this series is now live! Check it out here. Also, I’ll be updating that post with your questions as they come in.

Cheers,
Zack

 

 

 

Zack Arias

A full time commercial and editorial photographer, Zack shoots everything from bands to CEOs to ad campaigns. A gifted teacher and communicator, he has an uncanny ability to meet and connect with all types of people.

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49 Comments

  1. Felipe Curvello

    Very very nice Lighting Class!!! I wish I could have a video light, I mean, like this some years ago… How much money and time I’ve spent learning all this and you’ve perfectly summarized in less than 25min!!

  2. Dan Reardon

    Hello Zack –

    Just wanted to say thanks for all of the great content and work you put out there. Everyday this week has been like Christmas. I learned a lot from your original white seamless posting and have used it for video interviews and portraits. This is a great update / refresher.

    All the best,

    Dan

    • Zack Arias

      Glad you are enjoying it! We like making it!

      Cheers,
      Zack

  3. V Paul Bowers Jr

    Zack,

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together. Great refresher.

  4. Domi

    Me again. Thanks Zack. I figured they were Totas but wasn’t sure. The golden nugget for me was the Westcott BG. I hate muslin (which i have with no steamer) -_- and have been holding off on buying paper / vinyl because I don’t have a semi on hand to cart around 9′ rolls of seamless. Looking forward to “Part 2”. Appreciate the knowledge you share and continue to over the years.

  5. mark viducich

    thanks for posting this as i was never able to view the video from the white seamless tutorial you did some time ago. now, i will be able to use all that gear i bought from paul c buff early last year. quick question regarding the westcott background. how sturdy do you feel it is?

  6. Flávio Lara

    Hey zack,

    I have a question about how do I manage to match the White backlight with the front light on the sides of my object when I’m shooting somebody at full body. Maybe I didn’t explain just right, but one of your prints, the last one exactly, shows examples of your object at different exposures, and my difficulty rests at how to match background’s highlight with the sides on the front of my object, due to the difference between exposure and light’s power setting. And how I’m not able to do so, I have to correct that in post, one by one manually. Do you know what I mean?! That space on the ground between the object’s foot and that white surface remains gray or bright gray instead of be pure white. And man, sorry for my bad english, as you can realize, english is not my native language, I’m from rio, brazil, and the effort to describe my problem into words was a “little” intricate.

    • Zack Arias

      Part two is about to drop. I think that will help you. I cover full length in that.

      Cheers,
      Zack

      • Steve Wylie

        My biggest problems occur at the transition between backdrop and floor. There’s never enough light to erase the boundary between the two, even if I try to minimize the angle between the two by creating a “sweep”.

        • Zack Arias

          I’ll cover that in part two! Almost ready to post!

          Cheers,
          Zack

    • Felipe Curvello

      Hello, Flavio! Another Zack’s fan from Rio!! I guess Zack already can come to Brazil for a Workshop… 🙂

      • Flávio Lara

        Yeah, of course man! And for sure, he would love brazil, as an a anthropological tour, just like Cuba, we are similars in so many ways. I would love to go to Havana and do the next workshop, but for Now, I can’t compromise my budget. And zack, thanks for the input, I forget to say that, but I’m a big fan of yours.

  7. John

    Hi Zack, mot a question but just to say thanks for all the stuff you share, and your very relaxed way of doing it.

    John

    • Zack Arias

      Glad to be of service John!

      Cheers,
      Zack

  8. Jim Robertson

    Wow! Excellent content. Got me itchin’ to convert my large garage.

  9. John

    Fun teaching style, sir. I can never get rid of the back spill when I light my backgrounds, even when I’m not going for pure white. I’ve got a smaller space, though, maybe 14 feet by 20 feet and 8 foot ceilings. Sigh. Question: do you typically aim to zero out the background to 255,255,255 or just something very close to it?

    • Zack Arias

      Hey John,

      When I want blown out white I’m trying to get that to 255. Part two might help you out some. It’s about to drop.

      Cheers,
      Zack

  10. Paul

    How far away from the subject is the light in that last shot to turn her clothes black?

    I kid…

  11. Todd Walker

    Wait, wait, wait. Wait just a minute… You can light a video scene with three PCB strobe modeling lights. I mean, is that what I saw? You lit Part 1A with three PCB strobe modeling lights? I’m a super-newb in video and never considered that this would work. There goes the rest of my free time. =)

    • Zack Arias

      Those are not PCB modeling lights. Those are 750w Lowel Tota lights as mentioned above in the post. It would be nice if the PCB lights could light this but the modeling lights are capped at 150w and aren’t quite bright enough to pull this off.

      Cheers,
      Zack

      • Zack Arias

        I see how it looks like that. If you look on the right side of the frame you’ll see the tota light on a stand.

        Cheers,
        Zack

  12. Stéphane Audet from Québec City, Canada.

    Zack mon ami,

    Great video man, everytime you put something on, it’s better and better …and better all the time. You ‘ve been my ”online mentor” for the past 4 years, I’m reading your Q&A book for the third time, you’re my hero and I truly hope to meet you one day. Salutations to you et ”toute la famille”. Cheers from French Canada.

    Steph

  13. wilfredo

    Just like old times Zack..nice work.

  14. Bruno

    Zack, thanks again!

    I’m glad I found you and learned flash not the wrong way with all your videos. Now I’m not afraid of flash and I know what I’m doing in manual.

    Actually it’s kind of funny, I’m now more afraid of not having a flash than with it. 🙂

  15. Dominique

    Zack,

    This is a great series on white background and brings me back a dozen years or so to photo school where a bunch of us spent a frustrating afternoon struggling with two lights and a light meter trying to light a white seamless evenly to “photographic white”.

    I guess my question to you is how critical in the days of digital is the aim of those rear lights? What I remember from those days years ago in photo class was to point the camera left light at the camera right edge of the seamless and the camera right light to the camera left side of the seamless and the fall-off of the beams roughly evened everything out to within a 2-3/10th of a stop.

    What is your experience with this these days?

  16. Raffaella

    Thanks for sharing this clear and exaustive explanation and video!

  17. ken

    What did you use for the crossbar and clamp for the lightstand holding the black flags?
    That’s way more compact than the typical flags and is useful for apartments 🙂

  18. RickUrb

    Great tip on the stretchy fabric background. Just ordered one. I’m having less success finding some good black fabric. Any leads?

  19. Lawrence

    Hey Zack, thanks for this information as I just sent a message to you prior recently about how much space would I need to do full length portraits in a studio. You mentioned that it was 16ft wide by 25ft (camera position).

    Some additional questions:
    Since I do family portraits, how many persons do you normally fit given the width, wanting to maintain a white seamless, and still considering the equipment on the sides?
    Behind your camera position, is there further length to the studio behind you?
    Is your office space/workstation where you meet clients within that space, or do you have another office space to do that?

  20. Lee Gerstein

    Just viewed Part 1. The latter part, explaining subject/background lighting ratio and changing a white background to black, is superb. Thank you very much for this.

  21. Alex

    Zach,

    I am an enthusiast photographer and have experience with a couple studio sessions with lighted white seamless backgrounds. However, I still consider myself a newbie when it comes to studio lighting.

    I recognize the fact it takes an exponential amount of time, energy, planning, and people skills to translates one’s real-world knowledge into a brief and easy to understand presentation.

    Your video lesson with continual lighting did a great job at explaining things to someone at my level. It filled in a lot of gaps in my understanding and helps explain some of the challenges I have been seeing when using strobes.

    I think am a prime target for your sponsors and I believe they have made the right decision in selecting you to make this video. Could you tell me where I can learn more about the continuos lights that were used for the key and background.

    Approximately, how much should one minimally budget for going to continuous lighting. I definitely can see the advantage of continuous lighting over the strobe setup I have now.

    • Alex

      update: sorry, when I say “strobes” I mean hot-shoe style battery powered off camera flash. Sorry about the request for more info about the lights used. I posted right after watching video and prior to reading the post after the video content. My bad.

      • Alex

        links to the actual lights, barn doors, c-stands, etc. used would be helpful however; Both to me and your sponsors. 😉 similar to how you referenced the background.

        Thanks

  22. Richard Avedon

    Great video’s. You’ve done a fabulous job explaining light. Great Job.

  23. Christopher Pontine

    Dude,

    Awesome post buddy o pal. Very interesting to learn about this.

    Thanks,

    Christopher Pontine

  24. francois frenkiel

    Thank you for this very informative video. Could you give the precise reference of this white backround. I have been looking on google with “photobasics+white background”. But i didn’t find. Thank you!

  25. Chris Bergstrom

    Zack, do you have a link or website where you got the stretchy white seamless background? I’m tired of having to touch up wrinkles in my white muslin since I don’t always bring a steamer on location. Thanks bro! By the way, I moved to Tokyo!!!

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  27. Dominik

    Hi Zack,

    Great series of articles about white studio background. Love your way to teach photography skills.

  28. Mario

    Zack, great video! I am in the middle of doing a shoot with a white background just as you are showing here and, needless to say, this came in very, very handy! Again, thanks. One question, what are you using to the sides of your model? Two black curtains? Held in light stands? Nothing on top?

  29. Toby

    As usual, the studio setup is great, your results are awesome, and your patient, technical explanations are outstanding. All this for free is what sets this apart. I’ll be buying a book or two to support your work – thanks again, Zack!

  30. Rae

    Hey, this is a wonderful tutorial & explanation. Thank you for taking your time to teach others!

  31. alice

    hi!
    can you please tell me what continuous light sources you are using for your 2 background light?

    thanks!@

  32. Cschab

    Hi, my “studio” is a part of a storage room in a clothing/Jewelery boutuque. My space to set up photography equipment is about 15×10.
    My equipment is a white vinyl backdrop, two large umbrellas, 2 smaller umbrellas, and 2 soft boxes.
    I take photos of women’s clothing on a mannequin. I am a beginner and walked into this having no experience with studio lighting or product photography.

    Do you have any suggestions for how I should set up my lighting? I have been testing different arrangements with lights, my current set up is a soft box on each side of mannequin and a large umbrella at 45degree angle behind camera.
    Suggestions for positioning/distance of lights to mannequin, camera? What is difference between soft boxes and umbrellas? And does it matter which way umbrella is turned? I’ve seen top of umbrella facing subject, but also the underside. All lights are continuous lights, no strobes.

    Lots of questions! Thank you!

  33. Kat Harris

    Hi Zack,
    This is so helpful. Do have a list of the actual gear that you use for this set-up. I’m renting gear for an e-commerce shoot + want to make sure I’m renting the proper set-up. Also, are the two lights lighting up the BG continuous?

  34. Moutaz

    Hi, I am a newbie to equipment. Any recommendations for tota lights on amazon to do this job?

    Thank you so much!
    -Moutaz

  35. Kerry

    Hey Zack, Somehow, just discovered this series. Thanks so much! Question, where did you source your black fabric panels as well as the bars you hang them from? -Kerry

  36. jordan features

    Hi there, I want to subscribe for this weblog to obtain newest updates,
    so where can i do it please help out.