The backdop is more photographed than any model. There are basically two types of equipment for making photo backdrops. We have tried both.
Backgrounds can be very disturbing and irrelevant. Arranging a studio take can be much easier than creating or finding the perfect environment for the shoot and to wait for the perfect light. The ability to isolate a motive with a white background is necessary for all professional photographers.
Having access to a studio may also be what we need to keep shooting during the dark winter season, especially for those of of us living in the north. And you may want to start with the backdrop if you want a photo studio.
Choosing material for the background
Paper for backdrops typically comes on rolls. When dirty you simply cut off the old paper and feed more, unused paper. Paper has the advantage of being very smooth and without folds and wrinkles, reducing the need for retouch afterwards.
Fabrics can be washed but have the disadvantage of folds and crumples that may cause unnecessary retouch. But the look and feel of fabrics can also be used to your advantage. There is a big difference between silk and muslin, for example. And muslin can be lit from behind, making it absolutely white.
You may use different colours in the backdrop, but if you’ll get only one, choose a white one. You can use colours in two ways, with a coloured backdrop or by using coloured light.
We advise you to be careful with colours however, especially if you are not certain about how the image will be used. Sometimes the image will be used on a website, and then it needs to harmonize with the website design. But remember, if you change the design in the future you may also need to redo the photos. White, black or different shades in between are usually most convenient in the long run.
The green screen is often used in video to isolate a motive for use of another background later on. But with still image photography it may cause an ugly green cast on the motive. It is therefore better to use white for isolating the motive.
Choosing support equipment
There are two basic solutions out there, one with tubes and chains for paper rolls. You can use this for mounting on a ceiling, a wall or on stands. If you know that you’ll only be using paper this is a good solution, even if the plastic chains often isn’t of best quality and don’t always work as expected. Especially not if you’ll not use them in a permanent setting.
The other solution is simpler and consists of a couple of stands with a cross bar, that can be used to support anything. You can buy muslin backdrops, use bed sheets or buy fabrics on sale. If you want to use paper, simply turn it around. Lay the roll on the floor and attach the end to the cross bar with some strong clamps.
If you have a permanent photo studio the best solution is to attach multiple paper rolls to a floor or wall. For all other purposes a set of stands with a cross bar is more useful and can be used with many different materials.
Start with a big muslin drop or a paper roll. You’ll need a space of at least 2,5 x 3,5 m for the set. If the paper roll is too big you’ll have to cut it. The muslin drop can however be folded or arranged to fit.