In portrait photography, the subject is 70 per cent of the picture; the other 30 per cent is the background. A background that helps to enhance the subject is good; however, one that competes with the subject for attention is bad. Studio photographers use backdrops to help focus attention on the subject and to give some ambience to the photo. Buying a variety of backdrops is expensive, so many photographers have turned to making their own.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
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Things you need
- Canvas painter's dust sheet
- Fabric (optional)
- Plastic sheeting
- Acrylic paints
- Sponges (optional)
- Slide (optional)
- Slide projector (optional)
- Charcoal pencil
- 11x17 copy paper
Purchase a painter's canvas dust sheet of the size you need for your background.
Purchase 1 quart or less each of three complementary acrylic indoor paints. Mix 2 parts paint to 1 part water to get the consistency that will allow the paint to be absorbed into the cloth.
Place a sheet of plastic or tarpaulin the same size as the dust sheet on the floor or wall and tape in place. Put the dust sheet over the plastic and tape in place.
Use a large paint brush to paint on a base colour and then use a sponge to create effects with the other two colours.
A Simple Backdrop
Draw a rough idea of the scene you want to create on 11x17 paper or get a slide of the scene.
Purchase either a canvas painter's dust sheet or sufficient fabric sturdy enough for a backdrop.
Purchase the colours you need in small quantities of acrylic indoor paint and mix 2 parts of paint with 1 part of water. This will make it thin enough to be readily absorbed into the fabric.
Tape a sheet of plastic or tarpaulin to the wall and tape the fabric over that.
Draw the outline of the scene onto the fabric with a charcoal pencil or project the slide onto the fabric and trace the outlines. Fill in the outlines with paint, remembering that a photographic background should not be tack sharp but rather somewhat out of focus.
A Scenic Backdrop
Tips and warnings
- Portrait photographers sometimes leave a light coloured oval or circular area in the middle of the backdrop to allow the subject's head and shoulders to be separated from the background.
- Background colours can be separated into warm tones, sometimes called earth tones, and cool tones. Which one you use depends on your subject and his clothing.
- Using paints at full strength can lead to flaking and chipping as the canvas is rolled up.
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