Andrew Sydenham looks at a selection of specialist backgrounds for the studio snapper
1. Colorama paper backgrounds
Price: From around £35 (1.35x11m)
Seamless paper backgrounds define the look of a photo studio as much as the lighting and cameras that adorn it. Colorama has one of the widest ranges of paper backgrounds available, with 55 colours and five sizes from 1.35-3.55m in width and rolls running to 50m in length. The wider and longer rolls are limited to the most common colours, mainly black, white and grey. Colours with evocative names like larkspur and rose pink can be selected from the range to match or contrast with just about any product or garment, and their quality and consistency make them indispensable for all types of photography.
I prefer paper backgrounds for portrait and fashion work as they light well, with the subject to background distance disguising any texture or grain that might be visible in close-up. For still-life and product work, white, grey and black are indispensable. It is worth mentioning that although durable, this paper marks very easily so shoes should be removed when walking on it.
2. Creativity Backgrounds Tuf-Flock/Velour
Price: £64.80 (1.5×7.3m)
is a light-absorbing background material in roll form, and is available
in black, blue and red at 1.5m in width and 7.3m on the roll. The black
background on test has quite astonishing light-absorbing properties and
enables photographers to get an absolute black with no visible detail,
exactly like shooting on velvet without having to worry about the nap or
direction of light. I cut sections from my roll and used it to surround
products on white backgrounds, which reduced the spill of light, thus
increasing colour saturation and detail.
The flexible vinyl
backing is very hard-wearing with the whole material standing up well to
repeated heavy use. There is a tendency for it to attract lint and dust
after a while, but this can be removed using finger tips and sticky
3. XL Studio Lighting Duo vinyl backgrounds
Price: £129.95 (2.7x6m roll)
XL Studio Lighting’s Duo vinyl background features reversible black & white surfaces on a tough aluminium core tube. It is available in 2m, 2.7m and 2.9m widths, with roll lengths of 4m and 6m in the 2.7m width, the latter of which is on test. I’m always horrified by the amount of background paper I use every year and find the idea of an almost infinitely reusable material very attractive.
The 600gsm vinyl is flexible and appears to be quite hard-wearing, with marks on the white side easily removed using a damp cloth. The black reverse side has an ultra-matt finish with a slight sheen to it, which is never going to
give the deep blacks obtainable from velvet or black flock. However, provided the subject is at a reasonable distance and the light sources are well flagged, then very acceptable results are obtainable.
The white side differs from regular background paper as the surface has a slight texture that shows up in shadow areas, particularly when used for small product photography and macro work. The vinyl really comes into its own as a portrait background, being compact, forgiving to handle and quick to set up. It can be stored for long periods of time and is not susceptible to damp.
4. Westcott Modern Vintage backdrop – Onyx
Price: £99 (2.7×3.6m)
From Westcott’s range of six vintage backgrounds, the Onyx is a 2.7×3.6m seamless backdrop with a pocket sewn in along the short side for easy hanging from a pole. The material is a heavy-duty matt fabric with a pattern embossed into a very thick velour material, and the surface picks up no reflections or highlights, so lighting angles or distance will never be an issue. The background is designed to give an out-of-the-box’ classic look to portrait and wedding photography. Although I was initially sceptical about its curry-house wallpaper look,models and garments stand out very well against it, and with a shallow depth of field employed the pattern looks very effective.
The background does tend to crease if not rolled away carefully, but steams back well. Also, the flock surface attracts dust and lint after time, so the supplied lint cloth is sure to get plenty of use. It is a good size for small group portraits and would be a useful addition in a busy portrait studio.
5. Interfit graduated backgrounds
Price: £55.39 (1.5x2m)
Interfit’s graduated backgrounds are available in a range of six colours and measure 1.5x2m. They are designed to give a creative gradation to tabletop product photography without the need for sophisticated lighting techniques. The foreground third of the material is white, where the product is placed, with the remaining two thirds gradating to colour. These backgrounds are useful for photographers wanting to offer a client a quick, easy solution for creative pack shots. They are also waterproof and can be trimmed to size easily with a craft knife and metal ruler.
The gradation is very even and uniform, and photographs well in all light sources. It also has a special non-reflective surface treatment to prevent unwanted highlights. Although reasonably durable, these backgrounds do require careful handling to get a reasonable working life out of them.
6. Lastolite Urban collapsible background
Price: £165 (1.5×2.1m)
The Urban collapsible background behaves exactly like Lastolite’s well-known light reflectors, with its integral pop-up metal frame folding down into a circular zippered case for easy transport or storage. The size when fully extended is 1.5×2.1m, which is perfect for a three-quarter-length portrait but a little tight for full length.
The backgrounds are double-sided and available in red brick/grey stone, corrugated/metal, rusty metal/plaster wall and distressed paper/graffiti finishes. They are perfect for creating an instant outdoor look in the studio or on location without having to worry about the weather or searching out that perfect corrugated iron shed. The images are screen-printed onto muslin and the pattern has a drop-shadow effect that simulates daylight and gives a realistic outdoor appearance.
The construction is robust and should survive repeated use. Spots of dirt can be cleaned with
warm water and a mild detergent.