Monday, May 27, 2013

Shooting with a White Seamless Background and Natural Light

For Children's Health Council, March 2013.
Through trial and error at Burning Man I have found a great way to get natural looking photos on a white background with very little post.  This blog will outline the steps for those seeking to create this look.

Richard Avedon popularized this style of white background shooting with his photos of the American West in the late 1970s. In these photos Avedon typically found a shadowed area next to a barn or other building. In this way there was bright light all around to fill the photos, but the subject, being in shade had soft shadows and even light.
Nomad - Shot at Burning Man 2012. 
Similarly, I use a silver-topped canopy tent to create a shaded area. In back of the tent I drop a white seamless background. On a sunny day, the sunlight hits the top of the tent creating a nice soft light. Light seeps in from every side of the tent creating a catch light in the eyes of the subject and even light all around.  Of course, I do this in color rather than in black and white that does create color temperature differences between photos taken at different times of the day. Also, within photos I have found that the feet might be a cooler color temperature while the face is warmer. I attribute this to the surrounding outside the tent. If there agree shaded areas instead of refracted sun, they can throw a more blue light.
Setup with canopy tent and white seamless.
The white seamless needs to be exposed as close to white as possible without blowing it out.  Blowing out the background can create a halo around the subject, particularly in the hair where it looks unnatural or parts of hair partially disappear.

I like to replace the background with pure white later in post. This is easier if the white was originally close to 256 and more separated from the subject colors. A subject wearing white or white stripes can sometimes blend with the background, requiring a more specific selection rather than a global.
For Children's Health Council, March 2013. 
One technique that gets it right most of the time is to go to the channels layer of photoshop and duplicate the blue channel.  Then using levels, you can drag the sliders until the subject goes to black and the back ground goes to white. Usually the white slider only has to come down to 240 or so. You bring up the black slider as close as you can without seeing any grey sneak into the background. If you have to you can paint in black on the subject. When everything looks solid, you can save the selection and create a mask on a new layer I photoshop. Then fill the layer with white. I find it help to soften the edge of the mask using the refine edge tool. Usually a feather of 2 works well. If you want to get back some stray hairs, you can also use the masking tools to paint in a blend around the head.
Freckles - Burning Man 2010.

Have fun with this. Everyone loves their photo on a white background. It also looks great on most websites because of their white backgrounds. I recently shot a series of photos using this technique for Children’s Health Council. You can see more of those photos on my other blog