Sunday, April 6, 2014

Studio Portraits Using Black or White Seamless Backgrounds

Dr. Hibret Benjamin is a dentist with a great smile. She was shot here with a single light using a white seamless background. 
When I do my studio headshots for Headshot Days, I try to give people two different looks. One way I do that is by shooting on both a black and a white background.  I also change the light style to give two different looks.

We go to various locations for our open Headshot Days. Corporate Headshot Days locate at company locations where we shoot several employees in a day. I use seamless because it is most portable.  Nine-foot wide rolls allow me to get farther from the background. I use Savage 66-12 for Pure White and 20-12 Black.   I have two separate Background Support Stands for each backdrop so I can roll one up to reveal the other. My favorite is the Westcott that is 10.5 wide or seven feet wide depending on how many crossbars are used.

For the white background, I only use one light. I use the largest source I can for a key light. My preferred is an 86” Extreme Silver PLM Umbrella with diffuser from Paul C Buff.  This is place on a Paul C Buff Einstein E640 flash unit fired with Cybersync wireless triggers. I like the way this light wraps around the subject softly filling in the shadows. It also leaves a beautiful round catch light. For the white shots I usually have the light straight behind me and directly on the subject.
IT expert Joe Markert of FunctionOneIT, was shot on a black seamless background using 3 lights. 
If I need it, will put a diffused light on the white background. But I always want to make sure the background is not blown out and is in the top quadrant of white on the histogram.  If you blow it out, pixilation happens around the hair. This looks extremely unnatural and detracts from the photos. When I process the photos in retouching, I replace the white background with pure white. So any white showing through the hair needs to be as white as possible in the original shot without pixilation.

For the black background, I change the light to make it a little edgier.  I move the key light off axis to one side by a few feet. I add a gridded rim light from behind the subject on the opposite side of the key light. Also, I put a light on the background. I grid this and throw a diffuser on it to make it just bright enough to create a gradient around the subject. This is especially important if they are wearing darker colors or have dark hair. It separates them from the background. When I retouch, I try to even out the black so it goes pretty dark on the edges. Another tip is to get the subject away from the background so that it is somewhat out of focus. Paper backgrounds have natural insistencies that can be attractive if they are out of focus.

People like having two totally different looks after the session. They will post them in different locations depending on whether white or black is more appropriate.
Dorothee Fisher cofounder of NousDecor was shot on a white seamless at Headshot Day in san Francisco.