White Background Photography Tips

I remembered hearing on Den of Angels about a method of taking photos with a good white background using a window. I didn't actually READ the thread on this at the time, but one day I thought to myself . . . hmm, maybe I should try that.

I figured that you would have to find a way to diffuse the light and obscure the view out the window, so I decided to try wax paper. One piece seemed too transparent, so I layered two sheets. Masking tape will hold it to the window without getting gunk on your glass.

When I looked at the tutorial AFTER I took my photos, I discovered that she had used bubble wrap. You may have something else around your house that could give a neat effect, so definitely experiment. The goal if you want a white background, though, is to let as much light through as you can without being able to see the background.

This is my setup for taking photos. I would recommend covering a larger section of the window than I did, sometimes it was difficult to keep the window frame or the view out the window out of the shot. I did not stand Naoya on the ledge because his head would have stuck over the top of the paper. ^^; So, plan ahead what kind of shots you might take and make sure you've covered enough of the window.

I've got my window covered, my doll set up, and you've probably noticed I have a weird arrangement of tin foil and posterboard (balanced on a tray table being held down by some books). I'll explain that next.

BTW, you wouldn't be able to see it if I did have one, but I actually don't use a tripod. I prefer the flexibility of holding the camera myself. If you don't have steady hands or don't have something to brace yourself against for photos (I find that getting an elbow against a wall in the right position helps a lot), tripods are a good idea.

Okay, so what's up with the foil? Was I having lunch? No . . . you'll find that the problem with taking a photo this way is that you've basically got a backlighting situation - there is more light coming from behind the object you're photographing than falling from the position of your camera onto the object. Since we see via light bouncing OFF an object, if we have an object between us and the primary light, we're not going to be able to see that object very well.

So what can you do? You need something for the light to strike to bounce it onto the object and back to you. The term I know (from film school) is "bounce card". Those weird umbrellas you may remember from school photos serve the same purpose; directing light unto the subject you're photographing.

I'm guessing you don't have photographic equipment lying around your house. But, you can use anything flat, large, and white as a bounce card to redirect light. Posterboard (or foam core) works great. As you can see in the above picture, it needs to be on an angle between the direction the light is going, and the direction you want it to go. You'll have to play around with the bounce card to see what angle and height you need it at to cast the most light.

This is one where you're going to have to look at the full view, so click on the thumbnail. In it, you'll see what the photo would look like if there was no bounce card; how it is with just the white bounce card; and how it is with the addition of foil. The images haven't been adjusted in photoshop.

Why did I add foil? Foil is shiny; so, it bounces a lot of light. Because it's foil, too, you can bend it around to get a little more precision than you could with the posterboard. So, I use the posterboard to get general light on the whole subject, and the foil to direct just a bit more towards the main area of interest - Nao's face. If you look closely at the image, you'll see that with the foil, I'm getting just a bit more highlights in his eyes.

This is an example of the finished photo, though it's from a slightly different angle. You'll notice that in the above picture, the unaltered photo had the whitest background. So how did I get the background light again while still keeping Nao well-lit?

I have a setting on my camera marked with a +/- that changes the camera's sensitivity to light. The baseline is 0; + 2.0 makes everything very bright, and -2.0 makes it very dark. In really bright situations, using a negative setting will keep my photos from being blown out; in low light, a positive setting can help photos from coming out dark. If you have a digital camera, you should try poking around your menu, changing settings, and seeing what happens. Another thing to try resetting is your white balance. You'll have to look this up in your camera manual to find out how yours works. If you can't figure out how to adjust your camera, you can get basically the same effect in a photo editing program by upping the brightness and the contrast.

You'll notice that the side of his face is maybe a BIT over-exposed (I like slightly overexposed images, actually). So, I might have wanted to adjust my settings some more.