In part one of this series I go through the space considerations and gear needed to shoot on white seamless. I also demonstrate the basics of exposure using video lights. Be sure to check out that post. You can do so right here.

Lighting white seamless can be a bit tricky when you’re just getting started. Stick with it, though, and you’ll get it. What makes this more challenging is doing this in a small space and/or doing this without a flash meter. The more space you have to work in, along with having a good flash meter on hand, will make this easier for you. If you are looking for a good meter I suggest starting with a Sekonic L-308S. As you can see in the video above I walk through the process without a meter.

I’m going to break down the thought process you need to work through step by step here:

• Set up your white seamless background. For this I’ve been using the Photo Basics 9×20 high key white fabric background.

• You want your subject to stand at least nine feet from your background. The closer they are to the background the more difficult it will be to keep your background lights from hitting them and the light from that background is going to wrap around them more since they are closer to it. The further they are from the background the easier it is to control the background lights and minimize excessive wrap and flare from that background. You cannot defeat the inverse square law. Get your subject separated from that background.

• Put one light on each side of the set for the background and make sure those lights are NOT hitting your subject. Stand where your subject will be standing. Face the background from that position. Can you see your background lights hitting you? Can you see the front of the flash / strobe / hot light? If yes, do something to fix that. You do NOT want those lights hitting your subject. Use flags. Use barn doors. Use something to keep those lights on the background and away from your subject. You want these background lights to be about six feet from the background and positioned in a way where they are covering the whole thing. Start by pointing both of them to the middle and then tweak from there as needed.

• Now place your main light. This can be anything. Softbox. Umbrella. Beauty dish. A main light and a fill. Whatever light you want on your subject, set up that light. Right now it doesn’t matter if that light is hitting the background. This is the light for your subject. We’re taking this pure white right now.

• Get your subject in place. Turn your background lights OFF. Find your exposure on your subject. Get that locked down. You aren’t going to touch that again if all of this goes well. Let’s say that exposure is f 5.6. If you have a meter then you want your lights to get to f 8.5 evenly across your background. Not f11.5 on one side and f 8 on the other. If your main light is metering at f4 then you want your background to be f 5.6 1/2. Or… f 7.1’ish.

• No light meter? Continue reading but make sure Matthew Jordan Smith isn’t standing around or he’ll berate you for not owning a flash meter. 🙂 And he’ll tell you that 1.5 stops is too much. I’ll say it isn’t. I’ll say it’s just right. Take half of what he says and half of what I say and you’ll find the truth in there somewhere. 🙂

• Now that your main light is set and your subject is properly exposed. Turn your background lights on. You want to keep them set to the same power and start them on a lower power setting. If one is set to 1/32nd power then set the other to 1/32nd power. Take a test shot. If your background is not white then increase each background light just to the point that your background blows white. If you have blinking highlights as a feature on your camera turn that on. You want to sneak those background lights just to the point that background starts blinking. Here is what it looks like from having your background lights too bright to just right.

light_comparison_white_seamless

• A note on lenses here. Some lenses are better at this than others. This comes down to the quality of the optics and the quality of the coatings. Remember that you are shooting into a light source with this set up. I have found some of my lenses perform better than others. Back in my Nikon days my Nikon 50mm 1.8 absolutely sucked at this when my 35mm f2 lens was perfect. My 85mm 1.8 did a pretty good job but had a bit of chromatic aberration that could be fixed in post. If you feel you have nailed the proper ratio from subject to background (1.5 stops Matthew Jordan Smith) and you’re having flare issues, chromatic aberrations, and all the rest of that mess then try another lens.

• Once you get those background lights to pure white (and not beyond that) then you are set. Shoot away!

• Note – Maybe you want that washed out look for one reason or another. That’s fine. Now you know how to get there. Then your client says they don’t want that washed out look. Great. Now you know how to back off of it.


 Trouble Shooting


Let’s say you get your background lights all the way to full power and you still aren’t getting a blown out white background. The issue here isn’t that your lights aren’t firing. 🙂 No. The issue here is your main light, the one on your subject, is too bright. You don’t have enough power on the background lights to get to that 1.5 stop ratio. The background needs to be 1.5 stops brighter than the subject. Not half a stop. Not one stop. A minimum of 1.5 stops. If you can’t add more power to the background then you have to reduce the power of the light on your subject. Once you do that then you should be able to get to your desired 1.5 stop ratio.

If you feel you have gotten all of this correct and it’s still not working for you, or you’re having issues, here are the things to check. 1) Your background lights are not hitting your subject. Double check that. 2) Your subject is too close to the background. 3) That lens issue I described above. 4) If you are seeing that loss of contrast on your subject bring the power of the background light down. 5) Double check to make sure your background lights are symmetrical in power. Make sure one isn’t set to full power and the other background light is set to 1/16th power.

If you are doing this with TTL I don’t know what to tell you. God’s speed to you and have fun. +1 on the back group? -1 on the front? And then it changes on you for no damn reason? Call Joe McNally. He’s the only one I’ve ever seen make that shit work on a consistent basis.

Is your floor going pure white? No? Do you have tile board? No? Go get some tile board.

tile_board

Tile board is your friend. It’s also known as thrifty white panel board. It’s a thin (about 1/8th inch thick) smooth 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of chipboard that is glossy white on one side and basic chipboard brown on the other side. It can be found in the paneling section, the plumbing section, or the lumber section of many large home improvement stores. I probably get more questions about this one piece of kit then anything else I’ve ever owned. For this application it works better than plexiglas ever will and it’s far cheaper than a big sheet of plexi.

You want to position your tile board so the back edge of it is getting hit with the background lights. You don’t want it in front of that line. Sneak it in to the line of sight of your background lights so that back edge is blown to white with the rest of the background.

Do not shoot from a high shooting position. That tile board is reflecting the background and thus snapping to white. If your background is pure white and your tile board is grey try lowering your shooting position until you find that happy spot of the reflection snapping to white. Otherwise you’ll have to make it white in post production or get super crazy and technical and pop extra light on the floor without lighting your subject. It can be done. Requires more gear and 118 expletives. I’m not even going to start so don’t ask. Just lower your shooting position and be done with it.

“But Zack! Lowering your shooting position means……”

Just lower your shooting position, fix it in post, or light the floor.

If you are working in a small area with a low ceiling and everything around you is painted white then realize you are standing inside of a softbox. You’ve got light bouncing all over the place and you need to bring that under control. That’s why you see those black backgrounds on each side of my set in my small studio area. Those are there to minimize all the light bouncing around and eventually finding it’s way back to my subject. My ceilings are high enough that I typically don’t have to worry about that. There was one shoot that I wanted a pure silhouette so I flew another one of those black backgrounds over my set, pulled the ones on the side in close, and that did that trick.

If you can’t find tile board or the stuff you find is half an inch thick then what you want is a smooth glossy white surface. Buy some 4×8 sheets of thin chipboard that is smooth on one side and paint it with a high gloss white paint. That can work. Also, try Peter Hurley’s ProBoard. It rolls up and is easy to transport. The one issue is it can be a bitch to lay flat. Set it out and sandbag it as far in advance to your shoot as possible to get it flattened out. Keep some sandbags on hand during the shoot to keep it flat if needed. I’ve used this on location when I couldn’t transport 4×8 sheets of tile board. Tile board is my favorite. If you can find it… awesome! If not, make something glossy white. Plexi won’t do it.

The more area of floor you see in your shot the more tile board you will need. It’s not uncommon for me to have three sheets of the stuff on the floor. Two as a minimum. I used one in the video above to show what the floor does without it.


 Continuous Lights vs. Strobes vs. Hotshoe Flash


I’ve been asked if it’s easier, or preferred, to use continuous lights for this kind of photography vs. flash. While it can be done with continuous lights, the best thing to use is studio strobes with modeling lights. That’s the best. You get to use low ISO’s and faster shutter speeds and the modeling lights on the strobes help you get everything placed as needed.

With continuous lights you will find yourself shooting higher ISO’s and lower shutter speeds to get a good exposure unless you have some big ass continuous lights. 750w lights were used in part one of this series for video. I’d want nothing less than that. A couple CFL bulbs? No. Can you do it? Yes. Is it going to be super awesome and crisp? Well, you be the judge… NSFW. Also note that if you are doing this in an area with a lot of available light that you cannot control then you have to have enough power coming from those continuous lights to overpower that ambient. That’s A LOT of light. I’ve watched several YouTube videos of people trying this with a bunch of cheap lights and while they claim it’s awesome, the truth is, and I say this respectfully, much of it looks like shit.

You can pull this off with hotshoe flashes as well but strobes are still the best option. I’ve been asked if it can be done with a mix of continuous lights and strobes as well. It can. Peter Hurley does this with head shots with Kino flos (continuous lights) on the subject and strobes on the background. But look at those Kinos. Those aren’t cheap ass CFL lights from eBay or clamp lights from Home Depot. Those are Kinos. KEEEENOOOOOSSSS. They are top notch pro lights.

“But Zack! You can get some fluorescent light fixtures from Home Depot and ….”

Stop. Stop what you are doing. Take a deep breath. It’s going to be ok.

You can pull this off in all sorts of ways. Light is light. The question is how difficult do you want to make this for yourself. You can go the cheap route and curse like a f*cking sailor or you can get three decent strobes and call it a day. I watched one video where someone set this all up with 22 clamp lights and two floor lamps and it looked horrible. Yet, there they stood quite proud of themselves. Did it work? Yes. Did it look good? No. Three used Lowel Tota lights and a diffusion panel would have done the job better for the same money in less time resulting in better results.

There are cheap ways to do things and inexpensive ways to do things and if you don’t know the difference between those you will eventually figure it out.

If you are staying away from strobes and flashes because they are intimidating and they scare you then I want to encourage you to get over that fear. Get. Over. It. Don’t let fear and intimidation stop you from mastering your craft. I went to public school in the south and if I can do it so can you.

I’m not saying that to be a great photographer you have to shoot this. Not saying that at all. You may hate this look. I wonder why you are still reading this if you do but know this, the day might come when you need to pull this look off because it’s a good job on the line and you have bills to pay. It’s a damn good thing to know from time to time. I get a lot of work doing this exact thing.

white_black

To go from a white background to a black background you now need to turn your background lights off, keep your subject separated from that background by some distance, and make sure the light on your subject does not hit the background. If light doesn’t hit the background then it will not be exposed in the photo. Watch part one of this series to see it happen in real time by using something to flag the main light off of the background and / or utilizing the inverse square law to help you get that background to go dark.

Note that, when using strobes, ambient light has never been a factor in any of these photographs so shutter speed isn’t of a concern unless you are trying to do this in a brightly lit environment. You aren’t changing the density of the backdrop with shutter speed. You are adding light to that background (taking it grey to white) or keeping light off that background (making it darker). You can flag your light or feather a softbox off of the background or use a grid in a softbox or octa or similar or just use straight flash with a grid. There are a number of ways to achieve this. Note… using something like a shoot through umbrella will be a pain to flag off of a background due to the inherent nature of how something like that works. Softboxes, octas, grids, etc. are best suited for this.


Post Production


Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 4.14.14 PM

There are days when you absolutely nail the white seamless look. The floor is perfect. The background is perfect. The contrast is perfect. There’s not a single thing wrong with the frame. Then there are the rest of the days called Sunday through Saturday. Back when I had a twenty foot wide cyc wall I had very little clean up to do when I shot this. Shooting on a nine foot background in a tight space usually means some little something needs to get cleaned up. For pure white or pure black backgrounds this is easily accomplished. Check out the video above to see how I accomplish this in Photoshop.

In the video I mention a something to consider if you are displaying pure white background images on a web site with a pure white background. Without designating a border or boundary to the photo then it bleeds into the page where you are displaying it. I handle that in one of two ways. I either add a small stroke around the border of the image or I bring the highlight output in levels down a bit. There’s no wrong way or right way to do this but just consider the background your images will be displayed on and you might want to do a little something to them to help them look better. Here’s a side by side look at the two ways of doing it. Stroke on the left. Highlights output set to 248’ish on the right.

white_stroke_levels


Questions?


I’m going to leave this area for Q&A about shooting on a white seamless. I’ll update this from comments that you leave below. If there is anything you would like further explanation about or you have run into issues not covered here then let me know and I will update this section of the post as they come in!


 

What software were you using in sync with the Phase to see it directly in Mac to check focus and exposure?

In this video I’m using Capture One. When shooting with cameras other than the Phase One I typically use Lightroom. LR and the Phase don’t play as well together so I use C1 for that.

Further question… not using your Fujis for the shots…?

I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the Fuji Lightroom plugin on my laptop for tethering. So… Phase One it is since I no longer own a DSLR capable of tethering.


 

Really really really dumb question, but how far away are you from the subject for full length shots?

With my 5D and 50mm what sort of height should my camera be? In portrait orientation centre focus point around the stomach area? then the subject is evenly spread through the frame making the most of all the pixals on my crappy 5D classic? or is it ok to stand and just point the camera down a little?

Feel free to come take my camera off me, tie a brick to it and throw it in the lake for asking a question like that.

Ha! Not a dumb question. We all started somewhere and hopefully we are moving forward from there. You can keep your camera. For full length with a normal lens my camera is about 15 or so feet from the subject. You just want a bit of space above their head and then some reflection at the bottom. I always focus on the eyes. As for height of the camera, just imagine taking a knee and shooting from there.That’s about right for me. If you stand and point it down you’ll probably not get that floor to snap to white.  And… that 5d classic was awesome when it came out. Guess what? It’s still awesome. How great that camera is has not changed.


 

Q: for your background exposure of 1.5 stops above key, if we’re using a flash meter, is this an incident or reflective reading?

I would assume that depending on the reflective nature of the background – super white savage seamless paper vs bedsheet – would impact how much light we need on the background.

I think I saw a Kirk Tuck blog post a few years back saying that for him, +2/3 stops (incident) above key on super white paper was enough for pure white.

When I use a meter it is almost always in an incident mode. How well a background snaps to white is dependent on the material I suppose. As to the 1.5 stops or +2/3’s stop do some experimentation. I’ve always taken it to 1.5 stops and that’s where I like it. It all snaps to white an I can maintain good contrast on the subject.

I’ve heard some photographers say you should take it two stops. I’ve heard some say you should never take it to 255 white in camera and do that in post instead. I once heard a photographer say that they must have a minimum of three stops difference but they prefer four stops. I think that’s a bit extreme. Kirk is a good dude so if he snaps his to white at +2/3 I’m not going to get in an argument about it. You want it to go to white? Increase your lights on the background right to that point it goes to white and no more unless you want that overblown background look.

 


 

I would be very interested in your view on the role that the raw converter and dynamic range of the camera (or film) plays in choosing the ratio for the background lights.

The in-camera blinking highlights usually use the in-camera JPEG conversion, not which values are actually clipping in the raw file. Different raw converters then come in with different ways of dealing with highlight detail. For instance, recent ACR/Lightroom releases try very hard to recover every bit of highlight detail by default, which is nice in theory, but it is kind of counter-productive for white seamless. Therefore relatively speaking, the background lights need to be quite a bit brighter in order to clip in the raw conversion since adjusting any sliders like “Highlights” or “Whites” would also affect the subject. But brightening the background in turn leads to a loss of details in the transition area, which increases ugly hair syndrome.

I don’t shoot a whole lot of white seamless and haven’t done any with C1 recently, but I vaguely remember something about the software being better at recovering highlight detail than ACR/LR. I think it also tends to leave white backgrounds alone a bit more.

In that video you are linking to, Matthew Jordan Smith is using a Sony camera, which has different dynamic range (I’d guess maybe a stop lower than for example Nikon, probably even more compared to Phase One). So maybe it’s a combination of these factors that lead Matthew Jordan Smith to recommend a different ratio.

You fell victim to one of the classic blunders – The most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” – but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never go in against a Sicilian Sony photographer when death white seamless is on the line”!

You are absolutely correct in your thinking in all of this. I didn’t get into this because A) I would lose readers and B) I wouldn’t be invited to parties. I kid! I kid!  The PhaseOne camera can be a pain because as soon as you think you have blown it to white there’s actually plenty of “detail” still in that image file. I put “detail” in quotes because, well, there isn’t much detail in a white background but there is plenty of information in there.

Yes the blinking highlights are coming from a JPG and you might find that once you start working on the RAW image the background never went pure white. Once that happens to you though you’ll figure it out and remember that the next time you’re shooting and you’ll add just a bit more light to that background.

The other reason I didn’t get into this is because people will be doing this with every combination of lens, camera, film, and editing software out there on the market today and it would be pretty ridiculous to try to map out ratios for all of these iterations of image making options. Get your background lights to the point where it snaps to white and call it a day… whatever ratio you find that to be true for your particular camera.


When you were doing your comparisons of lit backgrounds, I did notice that there was some spill affecting her shadow areas, even at your ideal exposure of 1/4 power compared to the pure black, but whatevs.

Yep. To further control that spill I would need to get Paige further away from the background, pull the black curtains in closer maybe or add some black flags just off each side of her to kill the spill. I wanted to make this tutorial more of an introduction to all of this than a full in depth every-single-thing-in-the-world-you-can-do-in-this-situation kind of a thing. Get the basics down and you’ll be able to tweak it as needed from there.


 

• Apologies for the video artifacts in the video. When Apple updated to 10.9.3 something broke between Premiere and Apple and the AMD video cards my MacPro has. It’s a well documented issue with very few workarounds right now. Hopefully it will be fixed soon. If anyone has a 10.9.2 bootable thumb drive you could hook me up with I would appreciate it!

I hope you have enjoyed this series and I hope you are enjoying #LightingWeek here on DEDPXL! Just a quick reminder that OneLight V2.0 is on sale this week!

Again, hit me up with questions, concerns, or comments below!

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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85 Comments

  1. Marald

    Thanks Zack. Great video series and very useful!

    After a time I noticed that paige hadn’t even spoken, but has a very pleasant face to look at while you were explaining.. 🙂

    Caleb did some great editing as well..

    I did have some interference in some of the shots (screen grabs mac and 2nd cam), don’t know if it was on purpose or encoding / playback issue.

    • Zack Arias

      Thank you! Paige is awesome as is Caleb.

      I apologize for the artifacts. Something is broken between Adobe and Apple at the moment and it’s a HUGE headache for a lot of people right now with very few options.

      Cheers,
      Zack

  2. Michael Sladek

    Zack,

    I have to remember not to drink anything while reading your posts for fear of doing a spit take on my computer.

    Thanks for the info. Thanks for the laughs. Thanks for keeping it very, very real.

  3. Mike

    As expected, it gets better, way better. All free. All cool. Thanks Zack

  4. Thiagones

    Zack, this post is awesome! Thanks you!
    Just made some clearance in my mind about shooting in studio.

    I just have a question: What software were you using in sync with the Phase to see it directly in Mac to check focus and exposure?

    And Caleb… Man, I told you already, you have so much future on this. The edit you did is so good and very funny! Just love the simplicity and the flow of the results of your edits and the natural way of life you all goes on that!

    PS: Looking anxiously forward for the rest of the week posts!

    • Zack Arias

      Answered your question in the post above!

      Cheers,
      Zack

  5. John

    Man, your shots looked awesome at the 13:40 when you were using the strip as main and the grid on the background. Lovely.

    When you were doing your comparisons of lit backgrounds, I did notice that there was some spill affecting her shadow areas, even at your ideal exposure of 1/4 power compared to the pure black, but whatevs. Great video.

    • John

      Further question… not using your Fujis for the shots…?

      • Zack Arias

        Hi John,

        My answer to your question has been added to the post above.

        Cheers,
        Zack

    • Zack Arias

      You are going to get some spill unless you can get your subject further away from the background. She’s sitting in front of a 9×12 softbox if you think about it that way.

      Cheers,
      Zack

      • John

        I’ve been wondering about that. If you could theoretically get 100% white but with sufficient distance have zero spill. I’m guessing that the 2 are mutually exclusive, as in to get “your whites their whitest” it must mean that this giant softbox’s light is always reaching your sensor and diffusing things up if only a little. If you had your subject say 18ft away from the background instead of 9ft (and you the photographer moved back, as well), would you have to crank up the background power to get back to pure white? Spitballing here….

        • Zack Arias

          Your lights would not necessarily need to be 18 feet from the background. They could be closer but you’d want that tile board running as far back as needed to be hit by those lights.

          Cheers,
          Zack

        • John Burridge

          Sorry Zack, in this theoretical that I’m proposing, the lights would stay close to the background. Only the photographer and subject would move further away. Can the P and S move far enough away that there is truly zero background spill or will there be always some? And if P and S do move far enough away, does the inverse square law kick in? Will the formerly zeroed out background become 250 instead of 255? I would probably need an aircraft hangar to test out my question….

        • Zack Arias

          As the the subject gets further and further away then less light from the background will expose on them. I don’t think you would need a plane hangar but you would need a pretty big shooting area. You’d also need a very wide cyc wall and/or a longer lens to compress the perspective.

          You can minimize it though in a smaller area with flags on each side of the subject. It get’s more technical and requires more stands and gear but you can cut more of that light from reaching the subject.

          Cheers,
          Zack

          Cheers,
          Zack

  6. Jim Roberts

    i think I bruised my forehead from smacking it when you explained what should have been obvious like setting the image up in portrait mode to get the most sensor pixels. Worth the the price of admission for that one tip alone. Thanks Zack!

    • Zack Arias

      Ha! Thanks Jim! Glad to be of service!

      Cheers,
      Zack

  7. PeteW

    Loved it. I’ve never tried it and had absolutely no idea how to do it, but now I want to.

  8. Lukas

    Thank You!

    Just what I needed to summarize all the bits and pieces I read/seen around about this topic.

    Out of curiosity (not sure if you mentioned this in video) – what was the lens on the Phase One?

    • Zack Arias

      Hi Lukas,

      That was an 80mm lens on the Phase. The “normal” lens.

      Cheers,
      Zack

  9. Joe Ethridge

    You really hit it out of the park with this two part video. The post production work was an incredible bonus. Awesome. Seriously, dude. Very professional yet personable. Paige was great as well. Thanks Zack.

    • Zack Arias

      Glad to be of service! Yes, Paige was perfect for this! You know how these photo videos can go… I’m glad this didn’t go that way. 🙂

      Cheers,
      Zack

  10. Ben

    Thanks for lighting week Zack,
    I especially love your post trick for using all the resolution of your camera – brilliant idea, and i don’t know why i have never heard anyone else use it.

    I dont shoot in the studio too much, but will try and remember all your tips and tricks next time i do

  11. jason flynn

    You’re so damn generous … thank you! The photoshop tips are much needed!

  12. Ray

    Damn, always loved your teaching style.

    Q: for your background exposure of 1.5 stops above key, if we’re using a flash meter, is this an incident or reflective reading?

    I would assume that depending on the reflective nature of the background – super white savage seamless paper vs bedsheet – would impact how much light we need on the background.

    I think I saw a Kirk Tuck blog post a few years back saying that for him, +2/3 stops (incident) above key on super white paper was enough for pure white.

    Thanks for your continued teaching for the community – learned a lot from your stuff over the years.

    • Zack Arias

      Hi Ray,

      My answer to your question has been added to the post above.

      Cheers,
      Zack

  13. Mark

    Hey zack,

    Really really really dumb question, but how far away are you from the subject for full length shots?

    With my 5D and 50mm what sort of height should my camera be? In portrait orientation centre focus point around the stomach area? then the subject is evenly spread through the frame making the most of all the pixals on my crappy 5D classic? or is it ok to stand and just point the camera down a little?

    Feel free to come take my camera off me, tie a brick to it and throw it in the lake for asking a question like that.

    • Richard Wintle

      Yet another informative and entertaining video, thank you.

      And now, as well as a slight tingling of strobe lust, I also have serious studio GAS. I somehow think I won’t get away with renovating my home to create a 16 by 30 foot space with 14 foot ceilings… sigh.

      On the other hand, brilliant tips that I am going to try to apply to head shots in the space I have available. Thanks again. 🙂

    • Zack Arias

      Hey Mark,

      My answer to your question has been added to the post above.

      Cheers,
      Zack

      • Mark

        Thanks so much Zack, more so about the comment about the 5d classic still being a good camera. I’m getting really funny about my gear, that it’s not good enough, that it doesn’t do this as well or that. I’m not blessed with having much money yet a few times now i’ve nearly gotten myself into trouble and bought a different camera, switched to another brand etc etc, so thanks for confirming my gear is ok and i shall use what i have. More signal + less noise right.

  14. Peter

    Zack, thank you so much for all the hard work you put into these posts!

    I would be very interested in your view on the role that the raw converter and dynamic range of the camera (or film) plays in choosing the ratio for the background lights.

    The in-camera blinking highlights usually use the in-camera JPEG conversion, not which values are actually clipping in the raw file. Different raw converters then come in with different ways of dealing with highlight detail. For instance, recent ACR/Lightroom releases try very hard to recover every bit of highlight detail by default, which is nice in theory, but it is kind of counter-productive for white seamless. Therefore relatively speaking, the background lights need to be quite a bit brighter in order to clip in the raw conversion since adjusting any sliders like “Highlights” or “Whites” would also affect the subject. But brightening the background in turn leads to a loss of details in the transition area, which increases ugly hair syndrome.

    I don’t shoot a whole lot of white seamless and haven’t done any with C1 recently, but I vaguely remember something about the software being better at recovering highlight detail than ACR/LR. I think it also tends to leave white backgrounds alone a bit more.

    In that video you are linking to, Matthew Jordan Smith is using a Sony camera, which has different dynamic range (I’d guess maybe a stop lower than for example Nikon, probably even more compared to Phase One). So maybe it’s a combination of these factors that lead Matthew Jordan Smith to recommend a different ratio.

    • Zack Arias

      Hey Peter,

      My answer to your question has been added to the post.

      Cheers,
      Zack

      • Peter

        That is very kind of you, thank you very much!

        And you are absolutely right, I’ll finally do those tests I always promised myself I would do some day and figure out what combination of lighting ratios and software/Lightroom Process Version setting will lead to the cleanest transitions with my particular camera. Avedon always retained nice hair detail, and so shall I 🙂

  15. Ashlee Pinegar

    I’m sure this is personal preference, but is there a reason you didn’t use the Beauty Dish? I’ve seen you use it on Rabbit and for your Coca Cola Shoot.

    • Zack Arias

      Can’t stay with the same ol thing all the time. I specifically stayed away from the dish for this video just to change it up a bit.

      Cheers,
      Zack

  16. Michael Matthews

    Once again, great content. Wonderful teaching style. And to take time to execute it so well and put it out there for free — more than generous. Thank you.

  17. Richard

    Excellent! I especially liked part 2. I like your teaching style; I’ll be certain to follow you, Zack.

  18. Mark Zelinski

    I watched until the very last second, and NO bloopers! I want my money back!

  19. Gabi

    Zach!
    I was just about to update my Mac to 10.9.3. I pulled the breaks just in time.
    Thanks for mentioning that!
    And whoa! Your post inspired me to pull out my dusty flashes.
    Hats off to the possibly most documented and down to earth lighting setup on Earth.
    Thank you.

  20. Gabriele Conti

    Hi Zack!
    Very simple question here.

    I saw you taking an headshot on location in a earlier video, where you made the white background with a 5in1 reflector.
    You lit that thing from behind with a strobe.
    I’ll sure experiment with that by myself but, is there any real difference if you light that kind of background from behind instead of pointing the light at it ?

  21. Jordan Bush

    Zack,

    Fantastic as always; thank you for sharing what you’ve learned for so many of us (waves hi) to learn from. I am blown away by how much energy and time you pour into creating legit signal. Your One Light Field Guide v1.0 still sees use around here, too.

    To take this in a commercial/product direction, say you’re photographing furniture on location. Is there any reason you would make changes to your background material or thrifty tile board//pro board? I’m thinking the answer is probably no. A roll of 9’ seamless paper is a real challenge to transport and store…

    I’ll also be picking up a pair of barn doors for my AlienBees B800 units after watching this, thanks again!

  22. Brainkite

    Man, the content you’re creating is insane!!!
    i bought your one light dvd wich was already great and very didactic, but you really got to the next level here.

    I feel like i could show this to my grandmother and she would’t be lost and understant the essence of most of it.

    You Arias’s are awsome!

  23. Anjon

    You’re a gifted teacher! Thank you!

  24. Kevin King

    Zack! Many thanks for the great video!
    Entry level PS question for you. When you changed the orientation from vertical to horizontal the extra “white” just appeared. When I try that method, I just get the checkerboard transparency thing where the extra black or white should be. I can’t figure out what I’m missing. I’m working on the locked background layer fyi. Any suggestions?
    Thanks again!
    Kevin

  25. Lars

    Hi Zack, great tutorial. I really appreciate it.
    One more question: Does Paige has a model website or something similar?

    Thanks and greetings from germany,
    Lars

  26. C.

    Hej,

    Lovely, this. Would you ever use a hairlight in the white background setup? If yes, how would you approach balancing that out?

    Thank you,
    -C.

  27. Jeff Weeks

    Zack,

    Tremendous content, and I love Caleb’s edits. This has been a fun series to watch. Quick question: Say you had an 18% gray backdrop. Do you think you could you get that all the way to pure white with normal 400 Ws studio lights?

  28. Ryan

    All hail the goatee’ed wonder! Great video series again and I absolutely love the way you teach. Thank-you for this! Some awesome tips…time to get black fabric. My studio is small. I have a total of 16′ for the white and me. I normally shoot at the 6′ mark with the lights just around the 4′ mark. As the floor is uneven I went with 1/2 Melamine. Does a dang good job too.

    My only question…What grid did you use for the main light? Was that still the 20 degree for behind her as well?

  29. Freddie Murphy

    Hey Zach,

    Great series!

    In reference to your export issues, my company had a similar issue with our Mac Pro and D700 cards. Here are a couple things you could try:

    Hit up the Apple Store. Sometimes they have disk images of older versions of OSX. We rolled ours back to 10.9.2 that way.

    Upgrade to 10.9.5. We didn’t notice the artifacts coming back in that version. The Apple store is also more likely to have this one. I think it was the newest one before Yosimite.

    Turn Mercury playback engine to software only during your render. The downside is that it takes a lot longer to export.

    Hopefully one of these works for you. I spent a week trying to fix it late last year.

    -Freddie

  30. Earl K Marshall

    This is awesome how you’ve given your time to thoroughly share these techniques with anyone willing to watch. I certainly appreciate it

  31. Mike

    I hope i haven’t skip that part somehow… but what kind of lights/softbox are you using? I’m totally looking forward to get your setup, loved the tutorial 🙂

  32. Karin Nelson

    Who knew one can learn so much in less than 60 minutes… Thank you!

  33. Brad Barlow

    Holy smokes, Zack and crew, you guys are firing on all cylinders. I love the videos, the social media presence and this blog is thorough, hip and clean. What stand should I get to boom a beauty dish over my head when I’m shooting portraits? C-Stand? Is there a particular one you like these days?

  34. kevin

    Zack, question. It looks like you don’t care about your bg blowing out flyaway hairs. In lots of your examples, the texture of the hair that crosses the background is pretty much quashed… Thoughts? Personally I prefer to shoot just under pure white and then bring it up a tad in post. this ensures that the hairs don’t get lost due to sensor bloom or wrap.

  35. Kurt F

    Zach, I have washed literally 100s video tutorials on various photography related techniques over the years and your videos are by far is the best.

    Thank you for sharing your brilliant knowledge with us.

  36. Alex

    Hi Zach,

    Video is a powerful thing when executed well. It can accomplish things that a written blog can not as easily achieve.

    I thought you accomplished this goal with the Part 1 video. I am sure this took a huge amount of planning and effort. Probably, 100x more effort and planning than written blogs. The pace was perfect for a beginner like myself and I hope your sponsors agree with me that it had a huge impact on the masses.

    Similarly, Part 2 started off to a good start but then at about the 14 min marker the pace seem to pick up significantly. It was apparent to me that something happened at about this point. Maybe plans changed along way due to increased scope.. Anyhow, it felt like there may have been enough material in there for several more videos if you were to go about things with the planning and clarify that went into Part 1. I think I can appreciate the challenge and balancing scope with how much time there is to execute.

    Anyhow, the written supplemental information on this page helped me quite a bit to fill in the gaps. For Part 2 video I feel the written part is mandatory supplementary reading. This was not the case for Part 1. Perhaps due to the complexity of the subject matter of Part 1 vs Part 2.

    I’m not sure, who was the target audience from you point of view for Part 1 vs Part 2 video. I completely groked Part1 and it was very helpful for filling in the gaps in my understand and resolved issues for me. Part 2, especially after the 14 min mark, felt rushed. Just wanted to provide my 2 cents as feedback from a newbie like me. I’m sure it was fine for the more advanced audience.

  37. ashley dellinger

    I am not a noob to photography or lighting & yet I often stand in my studio scratching my head like a tard at why something isnt going as planned with a lighting setup & how to fix it. This video gave me some strategic thinking troubleshooting steps to follow when theres issues so thanks so much for that! Also learned some stuff that I should know but it has just never clicked, you explain things so well I love it. Thanks thanks thanks! Going to read your blog post more thoroughly but if it isnt mentioned, were you shooting on Bee’s & if so what strength?

  38. Ken

    Any suggestion on how to deal with the seams on the white board? I tried white gaffers tape but it just didn’t have the same reflective properties and it left me cloning shadows.

    Unretouched image reference: https://flic.kr/p/rBqpGh

    • Zack Arias

      Place the front board slightly on top of the back one. That usually does the trick.

      Cheers,
      Zack

  39. Jeff

    Hi Zack,

    Great stuff! I’m a big fan!!! Thanks for your overall contribution to the industry and advancement of others:)

    I use speedlights and use my histogram to check exposure. Are you “eyeballing” your background exposure or do you just adjust until it is completely to the right (on the histogram)? For example, to maintain details on portraits I will slightly backoff the rightside of the histogram when exposing for something white . . . but with white seamless, I assume you are purposely blowing it out?

    Thanks,
    Jeff

  40. Karen

    Wonderful video – thank you! Question about shooting grey backgrounds. Is there a way to get consistent colour between shoots? Post-production or something else. I find that my ‘greys’ are all slightly different shades and I can’t match them.

  41. Stijn

    Hiya Zack,

    I just read/watched your tutorial and it is great! I have been searching all over the place for a tutorial that could explain the dynamics behind the “infinite white background lighting”. Whereas other tutorials only talk about what gear you need and where to point them.

    I now understand how to control the environment instead of using as much light as possible on the background and hope for the best.

    My compliments, keep going like this!

  42. frederick

    Zack,

    Thank you for your work here. Will be referring this to students from the local high school photo class! So much good stuff well taught! And, the inverse square law to boot.

    Nerdy equip question: What are the barn doors you use? Shocking how expensive are those little babies.

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  49. j mckay

    hi zack,
    i’m having trouble in cs6 cropping to white. it used to work, but now when i crop it goes transparent. anyone here know a fix?! my background is set to white.

    so annoying. help!

    jm

  50. Mike Guilbault

    Thanks Zack! On your recommendation I purchased one of the backgrounds (having a hard time finding Tile Board in my area) and I remember you mentioned in the video that you use the ‘smooth’ side of the background, which appears to be the ‘back’ of the background based on the way it’s sewn together. Could you explain your reasoning for using that side over the ‘apparently correct’ side of it?

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  54. Charles

    Hi Zack,

    You told in that video that there’s a way to light the floor without the thrifty tile board. I’m looking for that look but I’m not sure how to manage that medium grey gradient that it makes.

    Can you help me with that please?

    Cheers,
    Charles.

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    This was a very good 2 Part Series. It does cover a lot of Lighting techniques in a simple way ….Love your work Zack !!

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  60. Amanda Machulsky

    Hi Zack! So i’m new to the professional studio photography world and instantly fell in love with your style/personality in your blogs and videos. I am very determined to master the white seamless background, HOWEVER my studio space is an office studio so it’s rather small… Do you have any advice for a studio set up without an extreme distance from lens to subject to backdrop? Is my best bet for now to do post production white seamless? I want to master strobes and am now worrying that I invested in a studio space too small (or narrow)! I am willing to do the work of studio investigation but it is always worth asking!!

  61. Marcie

    Do you have any suggestions on how to film full body with multiple angles with a white background? I’m assuming the lighting setup would be much different since you wouldn’t want the lights in the shot. And I’m sure the space required would be way different than a photography set. I’m completely new to all of this and my aspirations and ideas are way too big for my skill set. Or lack thereof. Haha! If you have any help to offer, even in the slightest bit, it would be beyond appreciated!