Rockin’ The White Background

The white seamless background is one of the most useful tools in a studio photographers arsenal. For about $40.00, you’ve got a white, gray, and even a black background for shooting studio work. How is that possible? Because by controlling your lighting and your exposure you can make that background go from all white to gray to black. Seems easy right? Well, sometimes.

Probably the hardest look to pull off well is a completely white background. The reason we photogs fight the white is because it takes a lot of light to make that white background really “white” and evenly lit. Not to mention that you still have to light your subject. To be effective, you’re gonna need three lights.

For this setup, I used some tips and tricks from Zack Arias’ tutorial but I added a few twists. I shot these in my garage, so being able to get my son far enough away from the white background to prevent it from lighting him was going to be a little tough. Also, I cut up and made V-Cards from insulation panels rather than the doors that Zack talks about.

Here’s a little setup shot:

Each panel of the V-Card is 24″ wide. I placed them so that I could help reflect light from each flash that was going to light my background, back onto it. This also prevents a lot of light from spilling onto my subject. In the corner of each of the V-Cards I had an SB80DX speedlight with diffusion dome on a stand at 1/4 power. At my shooting distance, I didn’t need much more power than that.

I rolled out my paper from my background stand and taped it off on the concrete floor. I then laid a piece of white tileboard over the seam and Daniel stood on that. The white tileboard gives a great reflection without having to add one in Photoshop if you’re shooting full length, your subject is sitting, etc.

I used an SB800 through at 24″ x 24″ Lastolite Ezybox for my key light. I really love that thing. The light is so soft and smooth… it’s like heaven coming from such a small light source. I positioned it camera right and up a little high. I shot at f 5.6 @ 1/200th of a second. My SB800 power was set to 1/16th. The light reflecting off of the white seamless gave me a little bit of a separation light on my subject which was very nice. Not exactly what I was going for, but when I saw it on my D90’s LCD I was really diggin’ it.

So that’s how to properly shoot a portrait on a white background and make sure that the white is REALLY white. If you’re using paper on location, you can throw a lot of light at it and pray but you’re likely going to end up with a washed out subject and an unevenly lit background.

That’s it for this week. I hope you enjoyed the info and I’ll see you back here for next week. Got a busy weekend of shooting ahead! Have a great day!


6 thoughts on “Rockin’ The White Background

  1. Stephen,

    Every time I look at this portrait, I automatically look up to see what the date is. It is an amazing likeness to a Norman Rockwell calendar scene. Very impressive, with congratulations for photography excellence. Also, kudos to your son, as well as your other two children. All are excellent portrait subjects.


  2. Hello!

    So, I want to make those V cards!

    How much did they cost? How did you cut the installation and how big were the pieces? Would you be able to take a shot from the other side of them, so we can see what they look like?

    Thank you!!


    • Hi Jennifer,

      The sheets of insulation are about $10.00 each if memory serves me and what I did was buy two sheets (which are 4′ x 8′) and cut them down to 4′ x 6′. I then cut them in half length-wise, so that I had two sheets of 2′ x 6′. This size works pretty well if you’re not in a space with higher ceilings or don’t have room to use them as a 4′ x 8′ v-card.

      I hope that helps out and be sure to let us know how they turned out!

      All the best,


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