Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Making the Background Really Black - Photography How-to

The teachers in my photography class always show the students sample pictures from great photographers. In one of the books, I was greatly fascinated by the portraits that have really black backgrounds. Having a really white background, I believe, is easy enough - just point a speedlite on the background and increase its power - but I felt that making the background really black would prove to be a difficult undertaking.

So, I challenged myself to make a portrait with a really black background. I would commission the wife to be my model but I don't want her to suffer while I am figuring out how to make it work. So, for the initial undertaking, I employed the services of the wife's stuff toy.

You may have already seen him in my review of the Lumiquest ProMax System (link of said review).

But first, here is my set up.

Any place can be a studio.

That is our dining table and I used poster boards to serve as "floor", background, and reflector. The ambient light you see here is constant all through out the shoot. The camera is set on Manual and I chose to put the speedlite off camera. The white poster board on camera right served as a reflector to bring some of the light back to my subject. Also, I used a black pot holder (!) to serve as snoot for the speedlite - I didn't want the light to spill towards the background and since I don't have an "official" snoot yet, I had to be creative in preventing the light to go where I don't want it to.

f/11, 1/100s, ISO100

The first shot I took was a mild success. I was able to get a good shot but the background is still a bit grey. So, I set a faster shutter speed to 1/250s. This, by the way, is the sync speed for the Canon 430 EX II speedlite.

With the new settings, I was successful in making the background really black! So, why is this set up successful?

The snoot prevented the light from going towards the background. Also, since the aperture is very small and the shutter speed very fast, if there is no light coming from the flash, then the picture would be completely black despite the light coming from the overhead light source. The key points are making everything black but lighting up only the subject. You can see the results on the two pictures below.

f/11, 1/250s, ISO100

f/11, 1/250s, ISO100

Goes to show that, one, you can achieve a lot by actually doing photography and, two, you really don't need a studio to get the shot that you want - you just need to be creative in making the it.

I am happy that I was able to get the shot that I wanted. It brings about a great amount of accomplishment. Next up would be using the knowledge that I gained from here applied to a person. :)

Equipment used to get this shot:

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