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Backdrops for Photoshoots Tutorial

Studio Backdrop: Teal

Color is the place where our brain and the universe meet.

-Paul Klee
Andrea is wearing an olive colored shirt with fringe detail along with a turquoise squash blossom and a silver concho belt. This image was captured with a mix of natural light and a studio strobe.

One of the first things I learned about painting backdrops is that a backdrop isn’t finished until it is photographed. As you can see in the picture below, the backdrop is actually quite lighter in tone than how it appears in the above portrait of Andrea.

The base color of the backdrop is a blue gray color called Dragonfly by Behr. I wanted a turquoise hued backdrop but the name Dragonfly was a deal cincher. The color leans more towards teal than turquoise, if one wants to get into the nitty-gritty detail over it.

With the backdrops that I started painting towards the end of the project, I changed my technique and began mixing paint colors in the tray. It might be difficult to see in the photos (below) but the paints are thinned quite a bit with water. I didn’t have a formula for thinning the primer and paints, but generally I was aiming for a consistency of very thin pancake batter. I wasn’t stingy with adding water. I guesstimate that the ratio was around 40% water to 60% paint.

With some of the backdrops I added texture by using sea sponges to dab on color. At other times I worked in about two foot squares using a large brush that I sacrificed for the job of pounding two or more colors of paint together on the canvas. On the vintage pink canvas I employed a heavy duty spray bottle to apply multiple colors of very thinned paint all over the canvas. On the large charcoal gray canvas I splattered paint invoking the spirit of abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock to create random texture.

The “teal” backdrop is comprised of five colors: dragonfly blue, charcoal gray, light gray, ocher and creamy white. The colors were applied to the canvas using the texture roller featured in the photo in the upper right corner.

I found that there is no wrong or right way to add texture. Just like there is no wrong or right way to take a photograph. At some point experience and instinct come together to create some magic. If you don’t like what you are creating, keep going, try new techniques and don’t stop until you are satisfied with the result.

My drawing 101 and 102 teacher at Saratoga Junior College in Northern California always said to not discard a drawing. She encouraged her students to work through dissatisfaction. Art, like life, is a series of decisions. Adjustments are made continually along the way as you learn and navigate the process. The great thing about painting is that if you don’t like what’s happening on the canvas, you can just let the layer dry and start afresh. Keep painting until you like what you see. Let the backdrop dry overnight and then photograph it the next morning. The camera will “see” the backdrop differently than your eyes do.

This backdrop has five colors, plus whatever colors they make when mixed together. When I thought that I perhaps went too far with too many colors the last thing I would do is create a light wash of the primary color. With a light hand I’d roll the paint (that was thinned a lot with water – perhaps 50%) over the entire canvas using the texture roller. I coined this step a “unifying wash” because that’s what it did. The primary color became a glaze on top of the backdrop and married all the colors.

Towards the end of the project I started adding leftover colors from some of the drops to the new drops I was painting. I felt that perhaps adding a bit of those colors would make a cohesive collection. Even if the effect is subtle I like the idea of complementary colors across the studio’s collection of backdrops.

Interested in learning more about what the studio has to offer? Click on the following links to jump to the studio’s portfolio of images, and download a digital copy of the studio’s Magazine and Style Guide to learn how to prepare for your photoshoot:

Link to the studio’s portfolio.

Link to the studio’s Free Magazine and Style Guide.

Categories
Backdrops for Photoshoots Headshots and Personal Branding

Studio Backdrop: Light Gray

Gray is the Queen of colors, because she makes everyone else look good.

-Helen Van Wyk, Painter
“Double Exposure” portrait of Andrea captured with a mix of natural light and strobe.

As you can see from the images in this post, this light gray backdrop can appear much lighter or darker in photographs depending upon the lighting used to make the portrait. In the studio I work with natural light, strobe light, and a mix of both natural light and strobe to create portraits that are light and airy to dark and moody and everything in between.

The goal with this backdrop was to choose the right tone of gray that would work as both a neutral and to pair well with just about any color. I also had in mind to select a tone that would work well in replacing white seamless paper for fashion-inspired images, especially when a little more texture is desired in the image.

“Socially distanced” group photo of the Marana Chamber of Commerce Committee Chairs for 2019-2020. Each member was captured individually and composited into this group photo. I made a makeshift studio outside under a canopy.
Devi posing under the canopy for her participation in the Marana Chamber of Commerce photoshoots to capture the outgoing committee chairs.
Personal Branding image for Erik Anderson of Scar and Pain Solutions, based in Tucson, Arizona.
Pam is owner of Theia Hypnotherapy, LLC, a certified hypnotherapist.

In addition to this warm light gray backdrop, the studio has a variety of gray backdrops in inventory:

Warm Gray | Charcoal Gray | Blue-Gray | Portable Medium Gray

Interested in learning more about what the studio has to offer? Click on the following links to jump to the studio’s portfolio of images, and download a digital copy of the studio’s Magazine and Style Guide to learn how to prepare for your photoshoot:

Link to the studio’s portfolio.

Link to the studio’s Free Magazine and Style Guide.

Categories
Backdrops for Photoshoots

Studio Backdrop: Warm Light Gray

In nature, light creates the color. In the picture, color creates the light.

-Hans Hofmann
Andrea photographed in front of the studio’s big bay window to add a base layer of natural light and then a strobe is added to give the light direction.

White, black and gray are essential in every wardrobe and this concept applies to backdrops as well. My general rule is to photograph lighter tones on lighter backdrops and darker tones on darker backdrops. Gray is the exception to the rule. As you can see with Andrea’s cover image there isn’t too much contrast between the lighter gray backdrop and her black shirt. It is subtle, but you can also see that Andrea’s blonde hair is complimented by the ochre color that was added as a golden accent to the backdrop.

The tones in this backdrop are cream, light gray and ochre. I had to photograph each backdrop before I could declare it finished. Backgrounds tend to look different in a photograph than they do lying on the floor.

In addition to this warm light gray backdrop, the studio has a variety of gray backdrops in hues that range from lighter to darker:

Light Gray | Blue-Gray | Portable Medium Gray | Charcoal Gray

Interested in learning more about what the studio has to offer? Click on the following links to jump to the studio’s portfolio of images, and download a digital copy of the studio’s Magazine and Style Guide to learn how to prepare for your photoshoot:

Link to the studio’s portfolio.

Link to the studio’s Free Magazine and Style Guide.

Categories
Backdrops for Photoshoots Tutorial

Studio Backdrop: Old Masters Brown

There is a vast difference between taking a picture and making a photograph.

-Robert Heinecken
Andrea captured in a chiaroscuro-style photograph featuring the studio’s new textured brown backdrop.

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.

Top Row Left to Right: Rembrandt (1606-1669), Van Dyke (1599-1641) , Rembrandt Bottom Row left to Right: Bagilone (1566-1643), Rembrandt, Velázquez (1599-1660)

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.

Black V-flats are featured as a backdrop in nearly every photoshoot. It’s a versatile background that has a gradient look to it with tones of white and gray where the light is prominent. Model: Chrisie Ballard.

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.

Performing the sun test with the black polystyrene board and various paint samples.

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.

Painting the base color of Espresso Bean by Behr with an inexpensive roller. Thinning the paint with water and then applying it randomly creates texture.

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 little air in the hair is one of my favorite things for longer tresses.

Link to the studio’s portfolio.

Link to the studio’s Free Magazine and Style Guide.