The best thing about a photograph is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.
This medium gray textured backdrop is a little less than 5′ wide making it ideal for layering with other backdrops in the studio. It’s also ideal for transporting in a vehicle if I’m shooting on location.
In the photo of Andrea, above, the backdrop is layered with the Old Masters Brown. If layering isn’t your thing, the gray backdrop can be easily extended in Photoshop. Here’s an example:
The studio has five additional hand painted gray backgrounds to choose between for portrait sessions: charcoal gray, chalk paint blue-gray, light gray and warm light gray. For a more commercial look, seamless paper is also a favorite choice.
What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.”
For the studio’s backdrop project I created four gray backdrops in shades from light to dark. The light gray and charcoal gray are roughly the same dimension, perfect for individuals, couples and smaller groups. The two smaller gray drops are ideal for individuals, or for layering with larger backdrops.
My general rule for backdrops is to photograph lighter colors on lighter backdrops and darker colors on darker backdrops. When selecting a backdrop the main goal is to complement the model’s wardrobe. On an interesting note, gray isn’t a color at all because it does not exist on the color wheel.
According to Wikipedia: “Gray is produced either by using black and white, or by combining equal amounts of cyan, magenta, and yellow. Most grays have a cool or warm cast to them, as the human eye can detect even a minute amount of color saturation. Yellow, orange and red create a “warm gray”. Green, blue, and violet create a “cool gray”.”
The charcoal gray backdrop is a neutral color and looks just as good with a pop of color as it does with a monochrome palette (as an example see Andrea’s cover image above). The texture in the charcoal backdrop was created by incorporating other neutral tones including light gray, black and white.
This backdrop was one of the last that I painted, so I was “unintentionally intentional” with the random painting technique opting to unleash my inner Jackson Pollock on to the canvas. I dipped a paint brush about a quarter inch into the can and then made slapping gestures with downward force to splatter the paint randomly across the surface. I had to continually remind myself to be careful with my gestures to avoid inadvertently spraying paint on the living room walls or the surrounding furniture (that had been pushed to the perimeter of the room).
Besides apple boxes, V-Flats are the hardest working equipment in my studio. The V-Flats are made from two 4′ x 8′ polystyrene boards that are taped together in a V shape with gaffer tape. A V-Flat is white on one side and black on the reverse side. The white side is used to bounce light. The black side absorbs light, which is also referred to as negative fill.
In addition to adding or subtracting light, V-Flats also make terrific backdrops. A set of V-Flats has a permanent home as a backdrop in a corner of the studio. Then there are three more V-Flat sets and two individual boards that are moved around the studio, as needed, to either control light, or act as backdrops.
My preference is a backdrop that is 10′ x 15′ or even 20′ long so I can spend less time in Photoshop. There are so many better ways to spend my time than expanding backdrops and removing taped seams in photo editing software. Additionally, if I’m shooting a full length portrait with a V-Flat, I need to add a floor to the set. Usually I’ll lay down a strip of 4′ x 10′ black fabric over the wood floor to make the set look like a seamless backdrop when it is not.
All this fuss created my desire to own a much larger, darker, textured, so long it sweeps the floor, hand painted canvas. In July, while sheltering indoors from Covid-19, I painted what I coined the Old Masters Brown backdrop. While I was at it, I painted twelve more backdrops too. Once I started it was difficult to stop. Now I primarily use the brown backdrop and reserve the use of the V-Flats when photographing wall poses in the corner of my studio.
With so many backdrop options to choose from in the studio, V-Flats will remain in the mix. Both white and black V-Flats look great as backdrops, especially when photographing in the corner. Here’s some examples:
I’ve been forty years discovering that the queen of all colors is black.
-Pierre-August Renoir, French Impressionist Painter, 1841-1919
There is a vast difference between taking a picture and making a photograph.
Old Masters refers to a group of renowned European painters that spanned the time period of roughly 1300 to 1800, from the early Renaissance through the Romantic movement. Some instantly recognizable names of Old Masters are Rembrandt van Rijn, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Caravaggio, to name only a few.
When perusing through a collection of Old Masters’ paintings, frequently the backgrounds are deep brown and textured giving an overall warmth to the scene. Brown and helps colors such as white, ivory, orange red and gold to pop on the canvas. Brown does not have a spot on the color spectrum. The color is made by mixing red (or orange), yellow and black (or blue).
The color brown is reportedly the least favorite color of the general public and yet a section of the Old Masters’ portraitists found that earthy brown enabled brighter colors to pop on a canvas. As for me, brown is the color of a few of my favorite things: chocolate, coffee, oak barrels (especially when aging red wine), yummy carbolicious russet potatoes, the beautiful Sonoran desert and raptors, in particular owls.
Rembrandt, Caravaggio and van Dyck, among others, employed a style of painting called chiaroscuro. This effect has a monochrome look where the subject’s wardrobe matches the background so that the subject’s features illuminate out of the darkness. The most popular color for creating this effect is brown.
The most difficult part of painting for me is selecting the colors for the project. Without a plan in place the paint sample display at a retail store will look like a big confusing grid of color. To hone in on the best colors for your project it is really helpful to have a color reference in hand to either make a match to the free color samples, or have the paint retailer run a color match.
When I initially thought I was painting one double-sided backdrop I agonized over the colors. The painterly style photographs I make generate the biggest buzz. Many of those images were photographed on textured gold and red backdrops. I wanted a darker option that was not too black and not too brown, but just right.
I like photographing clients against a black V-Flat, which is a polystyrene board. In a photograph it looks like more of a charcoal gray gradient than solid black. My sister, Juliette advised that the best way to compare colors is to take the reference material into the sun and compare it to the paint sample cards to identify the best match. So that’s what we did. After viewing the polystyrene board in the sun, the paint we selected had a blue cast to the black, which I did not anticipate. The color brown that we chose is a Behr flat interior paint called espresso bean. It is definitely a rich brown that has a black undertone to it.
My big mistake right from the get go is that I inadvertently purchased an oil based primer. I didn’t know that oil-based primers were still available to purchase. I was a little confused when I tried to thin the primer with water and the primer wouldn’t mix with the water. This was a bit of a head scratcher for me. And I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t figure it out until after I completed painting both sides of the backdrop using a whopping two gallons of primer on the 12×15 canvas. This also means that the primer alone on the canvas weighs in at a little less than 20 pounds.
I woke up one morning and the first thing that popped into my brain was that I had somehow purchased an oil-based primer instead of latex. And that’s why the oil and water weren’t mixing together into a smooth emulsion. Plus the oil primer has a strong aroma, much more so than latex paint. Doh! Sure enough, when I checked the empty can it clearly read oil based primer on the label.
The problem is that over the long haul latex paint may not adhere to an oil-based primer. I couldn’t get a clear answer from multiple sources on whether the paint will indeed peel over time. Unfortunately, the part of the backdrop that flows onto the floor is peeling a bit already from normal wear and tear of furniture movement during photoshoots. So while the oil primer was a mistake, perhaps even a regrettable one over the long haul, I do think the oil primer lent a richness to the finish that is clearly different from the acrylic over acrylic backdrops that I painted.
Despite my whopper of a mistake, I am really happy with how this backdrop turned out. The rich brown is a neutral color, which means all warm colors look great against it as do most of the cool colors, especially the lighter hues.
A photograph is not made in the camera but on either side of it.
When I first began capturing portraits in the studio I relied on natural light from a large bay window. The north facing window supplies so much light that I needed to hang a double row of sheer curtains to diffuse the light. Using natural light – or “God light” – as we like to say in the biz, will always be a favorite for capturing portraits and, in particular, the ethereal back-lit portraits that my clients love so much.
The trouble with relying solely on natural light is that even in sunny Tucson, there are rainy and overcast days. And on those gray and cloudy days there isn’t enough light coming through the big bay window to capture properly exposed portraits. No light, no photography is an indisputable rule. As a business owner, I need to be ready to capture portraits under any conditions and deliver images consistent with my brand whether the sun is shining or not.
The answer to being able to photograph at anytime in my studio – rain or shine, day or night – is strobes. A strobe is a device that produces a controlled flash of light. The studio’s photoshoots typically include the use of natural light, strobe light and a mix of both to create and capture a range of looks for my clients’ artfully stylized Fine Art Portrait Collections.
Many studio photographers will start out using black and white V-Flats and seamless paper as backdrops in studio. V-Flats are used to control light and they also work well as backgrounds. Seamless paper is convenient to use because the roles of paper are available in 65 colors and 5 different sizes. Seamless paper is also relatively inexpensive and one roll of paper can last a long time. Gray paper can be lit to appear white, gray or black in a photograph making it a convenient and versatile studio staple.
For portrait photographers, painted backdrops are a key component to crafting an image. The most coveted hand painted backdrops are made by Sarah Oliphant of Oliphant Studio in New York. There isn’t a portrait photographer I know that wouldn’t love to own at least one of her gorgeous signature backdrops. Excellence, as we know, comes with a price. And her bespoke backdrops start at five figures and are well worth the money. My challenge is that I enjoy variety. I don’t want just one gorgeous backdrop. Apparently I want twenty.
Once I added studio strobes to my lighting set-ups I began purchasing backdrops. The first backdrop that I purchased is what I refer to as “Old Masters” red. The color is deep, rich and textured. The red backdrop is still, after all this time, one of my favorites. After red, came gray. Then gold, followed by the blondie silver. Then periwinkle, then olive green. And so on. You get the picture… once a photographer starts down the path of acquiring backdrops it is difficult to stop. But hand painted backdrops are an investment, no matter who makes them, so that helps reign in the addiction but does little to negate the desire.
Here’s the thing. Not everybody enjoys painting. I do. Back in the 1990’s when specialty painting arrived on the scene featured in popular catalogs such as Pottery Barn, my oldest sister, Linda and I were inspired to faux paint the walls of my home in northern California. Based upon that successful experience I couldn’t help but think that painting backdrops for the studio shouldn’t be too difficult. If I can faux paint a wall, then certainly I can faux paint a canvas. I just needed space and time, two things that were in short supply until Covid-19 arrived and for all practical purposes shut the world down.
In July, after months of trying to talk myself out of it, I stopped vacillating and made the decision to embark upon “The Backdrop Project”. Over three weeks I painted a whopping thirteen backdrops in my family room. I started out painting carefully and by the end I went all Jackson Pollock on a large gray canvas while trying to be mindful to not inadvertently splatter paint on the surrounding walls and furniture.
In the next umpteen blog posts or so, I will dedicate a post to each studio backdrop along with example photographs. Documenting the various backdrop options will help my clients and I design photoshoots together. Keep in mind that each photoshoot is unique and designed specifically to meet the needs of each client. Styling is certainly an important factor of designing a cohesive photograph and it is the background, whether it is subtle or assertive, that combines with the other elements to complete the look.
Meet graphic designer, Elisa Ng. One of the nicest, most giving people that you will ever have the pleasure of meeting. What I also like about Elisa is that she’s not afraid of color, bold colors specifically (and neither am I). She’ll gladly add color to a design to make it pop, such as choosing magenta for her company’s branding. Her logo definitely catches the eyes. Simply stated, Elisa has the skill and experience to help small to medium businesses gain visibility in a crowded market by helping to elevate their brands.
At the beginning of Elisa’s career she worked as a production artist and graphic designer for large firms in the greater Phoenix area. She managed creative projects from beginning to end as part of an in-house creative services team. Collaboration is one of her core strengths. Elisa has built strong relationships with vendors and can manage print productions to provide her clients with full service solutions that save time and money.
Elisa has the experience to create and expand your brand’s image across print and digital media. Her projects have spanned across a variety of print and web media designs including print ads, collateral, signs, direct mail, emails, landing pages and websites.
Elisa is a prolific networker and referral partner. She is passionate about connecting people with people, and people to businesses and services. In fact, I met Elisa at a networking event. She proactively followed up with me after the event to schedule a one-to-one meeting so that we could learn more about each other and our businesses. We’ve been friends since our initial meeting and from time-to-time we carpool to various networking events in Tucson. I really appreciate her enthusiasm and willingness to help me and my business and in return I want to do the same for her. It’s her enthusiasm, willingness to help, ability to listen and ask pertinent questions that make her a great designer and a pleasure to work with.
In Elisa’s spare time she enjoys donating her capabilities and energy to organizations that help improve the lives of children and animals. Elisa and I enjoy reading mystery novels. A favorite series of Elisa’s is Joanna Brady by author, and U of A alumni, J. A. Jance. The novels feature a strong female protagonist, an Arizona County Sheriff. The novels play out against the backdrop of southern Arizona with events unfolding in locations such as Tucson and Bisbee. Another fun fact is that Elisa enjoys listening to foreign music while she works, in particular Korean pop and songs from Bollywood soundtracks.
When asked about the keys to her success, Elisa says, “Being authentic and friendly while listening to my clients. This builds lasting relationships and effective designs.” Well said. I couldn’t agree more.
Now that you know who Elisa is and what she does, give her the opportunity to help you elevate your brand. #LevelUp
Do you have a graphic design project that would greatly benefit from Elisa’s expertise? Learn more by visiting EL Design Studio, seeking her out on her Facebook Business Page, or calling Elisa directly at (520)369-2515.
I’m a California girl born and raised. The Pacific ocean was a quick twenty minute drive from my childhood home on the central coast. The first coffee table book I purchased was a tome on the lore of mermaids. Nearly everyday I wear a hand carved mermaid that hangs from a cord around my neck. She is my taliswoman. So it is of little wonder that when I began planning a creative photography project during my first year in business that I set my sights on capturing mermaids.
Recently I have been surprised to hear more than one person say that they think the mermaid crowns are added to the images in Photoshop. Nope, not true. Folks are also surprised to discover that the mermaids are actually lounging in shallow water. Yup, true story. These conversations have compelled me to give a “behind the scenes” glimpse into how the crowns are made and how the images were captured in my backyard. I am a proponent of capturing images “in camera” and doing as little work in Photoshop as possible. The less time I sit in front of my computer the better.
I found very little information on the internet to help me design the crowns. As Marie Forleo says, “Everything is figureoutable”, so I proceeded with figuring it out. Inspiration came from how some fascinators are made. I determined a strong base was necessary and that it should fit over the head—from ear to ear—for stability. I also needed a material that could withstand hot glue to hold the various decorative elements securely. The gluing conundrum was solved by wrapping the floral wire with bushy, metallic pipe cleaners. As a bonus the pipe cleaners are available in a variety of colors.
My sister, Juliette is an accomplished artist and I enlisted her help with decorating the crowns and assisting with the first photoshoot with Lindsey and Campbell. Juliette was dismayed to discover that I had not purchased high heat glue sticks (for its strong bonding capabilities and durableness in all weather conditions, including exposure to water). Well, that would have been nice to know. Unfortunately, it was too late to buy more, the stores were closed, so we used what was on hand. Ignorance is not always bliss. I also discovered that these types of projects use a lot of glue and that it is smart to buy extra long glue sticks. #lessonlearned
It was extremely helpful to have separate folding table set up that contained all the decorative elements: shells, abalone, sequins, glitter, artificial flowers, faux seaweed, strands of beads, buttons, pearls, rhinestones, costume jewelry, blingy broaches, charms, filigree connectors, broken jewelry, thrift store jewelry, hat pins, assorted chains, and a mish mash of miscellaneous decorative items. As you can see in the image below, everything got pretty messy, but there was, thankfully, some semblance of a system in place.
The styrofoam heads are really helpful with decorating and displaying the crowns. Because the frame is floral wire, the crowns can be adjusted a little by delicately pushing inward on the sides to fit a child’s head, or gently pulling outward to fit an adult’s head. The wire at the base of the neck helps the crown stay in place.
Just in case you are wondering, the bubbles in Lauren’s mermaid portrait are not added in Photoshop. My daughter was wielding the battery-powered bubble machine during the photoshoot. It was pretty funny seeing Maddie run around trying to master the best way to surround Lauren with oodles of bubbles. Lauren kept cracking up and a good time was had by all.
I have plans for more mermaid photoshoots during the hot weather months, as well as creating other creative fine art images utilizing the shallow pool, think maternity and boudoir.
Would you like to explore your options? Contact me for more information: (833)277-8721 or email@example.com.
Please leave a comment if you have any questions, or please let me know if you have suggestions to improve my crown making process.
Tales from the Quarantine presents Artifact Photography Studio’s newly minted blog featuring the not-too-philosophical musings, transformational progress, curious explorations, artistic endeavors, spotlight interviews, random pursuits and ongoing wanderlust of your hostess with the mostess, Michelle Owens.
On top of that I will throw in a recipe here and there because cooking and baking are, and will continue to be, a way of caring for myself, my family, friends and clients. Even when I want to I can’t seem to stay out of the kitchen.
And if that wasn’t enough, as a prolific reader I will not be able to resist recommending a piece of writing when a book, article, poem or quotable quote moves me. Likewise with films.
As an artist I’m constantly inspired by my environment, community and the world. And most of all: transformation. I rely heavily on creating vision boards to inspire my creativity. As a business owner, I am continually working to create and deliver a truly outstanding experience for my clients while also refining my back-office systems and delivery mechanisms. I’d like to write about these topics, too.
Before moving forward, I’d like to step back for a moment to the start of 2020. Not only was I looking forward to starting a new year, but also embarking upon a new decade. Oh the glory of all the possibilities to be considered and mulled over. To focus my actions I decided to select one word to drive a transformation process.
My “word of the year” for 2020 is Fitness, as applied (in a kind of multi-tasking way) to improving physically, mentally, spiritually and financially. We’re nearly a third of the way through the year and the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly tested me physically, mentally, spiritually and financially.
One of my lingering concerns has been… is blogging dead? Do I want to put time and effort into this medium? I questioned if people are just kind of over it? In the pro column I included my favorite blogs that I regularly read. So the answer is no, blogging isn’t dead, and it’s here to stay unless (or until) vlogging slowly takes over. Now that we’re all “Zoomies”, vlogging doesn’t seem like such a horrifying idea. Then it occurred to me that there are topics that I want to write about and haven’t because of the limitations of Facebook and Instagram for longer form writing. At least for my style.
My current objections are rooted in my past experience. I have been blogging since 2010 over at Salvation Sisters, a food and lifestyle blog co-founded with my sisters. Over ten years we have published more than 300 recipes, and we continue on with the project albeit at a stunted pace. Some years were certainly more prolific than others. What we learned is that blogs—or any endeavor really—require time, attention and consistency to flourish. We learned that posting a blog weekly was optimal. That frequency is challenging to maintain especially when recipe testing is involved in the equation.
As anticipated, launching Artifact’s blog has not been without its aggravations. I have come to believe that most small business owners are to some extent masochists. #jokingnotjoking We’re always juggling a million things and dreaming of the day when we can outsource certain activities so we can get back to doing more of what brings us joy.
You will surely see changes along the way as I learn the ins and outs and widgets of WordPress. My business mentor assures me that done is better than perfect. My rallying cry is that nothing is more difficult to learn than Photoshop, so WordPress here’s what I have to say to you, “Drop and give me twenty.” Nice inclusion of a fitness reference relating to my 2020 word of the year, don’t you think? Yeah, I’m just that good… lol.
To wrap up, please know that I welcome and solicit your feedback. Reading comments always makes me so happy. Well, let’s be honest, most comments anyway. Please feel free to leave constructive, on topic feedback to contribute to the conversation. Diverse point of view are welcome, but everyone, as Austin Powers would say, “Behave!” Please refrain from writing anything you wouldn’t say face-to-face. I reserve the right to refuse service to anyone (but you don’t have to wear your shirt or shoes if you don’t want to). Furthermore, rude comments will be removed without notice. Now that we have that said and done and out of the way…
…thank you for dropping by, tuning-in and commenting. My goal is to have this blog be a fun, educational, interactive, and interesting place to visit. Welcome to my little home on the internet.
P.S. If you are interested in having a photoshoot designed specifically for you, please call (833)277-8721, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s dig in to my favorite question that I will ask of you. “How do you want to be photographed and with whom?”