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Fifty Shades of Gray!

Posted on September 17, 2014 by Sean MacDonald
Ok, I chose that title for the post to grab attention. But... you can get over fifty shades of gray from one white wall or seemless paper. Once you learn how to control light spill you can make a background do many different things. Instead of buying white, gray and black, you can simply use this technique to change the shade.

First, you can make it any shade you desire by simply under exposing it. Pull your subject away from the background so that your key light (main light) will not light up the background. Second, choose the appropriate camera settings. Remember that shutter speed controls ambient (available) light, and aperture and ISO will control flash exposure and ambient light together.

Here, you can see that I pulled Ana (my lovely wife) away from the background. This way, I can let the paper go dark and the umbrella will not light up the background. She does have a slight orange glow around her head due to the spotlight as seen at the top of the frame. I would have moved this, but I would have had to move my background and get the ladder out. So I simply decided to be lazy and leave it there.

If you are lighting your subject with a flash, they will not be affected by changing your shutter speed. This is what will give you the control to change the background to 50 different shades of gray without changing the exposure of your subject. If you want a lighter color, use a slower shutter speed and let the available light make it lighter. If you want a darker shade or even black, use a faster shutter speed to kill the available light.



Both of these were shot on the same white paper. Simply by changing your setting and moving your subject farther or closer to the background, you can control the color. I do have some orange color polluting the background because of the spotlight mentioned earlier. If I were doing a real shoot, I would have busted out the ladder and moved the spotlight off of the background.

You can even go all the way black if you want. Here, Cassidy is in front of the same white background. All I did was simply turn up the flash power, use a smaller aperture, and BAM! Black background on white paper!


So I may be shooting myself in the foot, because I sell seemless paper here in the store. But... If you are lost on how to use flash off-camera, we are offering two workshops in March on that very thing. The first is "Off Camera Lighting Logistics". This is all about those setting I just explained. If you have no idea how to do that, then this would be the workshop for you!

The second one is called "Off Camera Lighting Modifiers". In this workshop we are going to talk about umbrellas, softboxes, reflectors, and grid spots. This is more focused on how to use them creatively and which one to choose for which situation. You need to have a working knowledge of the logistics part in order for this to be beneficial.

Lastly, you can make a white background any color you want. If you use a second flash to light up your background, you can put a colored gel over it and make the white background blue, green, purple, or any color you want. If you do not know what a gel is, or where to find them, stop in the store or stop in the off camera lighting workshop. We sell gels and gel holder too!


Here is an example of using a gel to change the color of the background. I used a blue/purple-ish gel to light up the background, and a house lamp to light my subject. My background was actually our apartment with some drinking glasses set on a TV tray to get those nice out of focus highlight circles. The concept is the same with using paper or any background. If I light up my white paper with a flash that has a red gel on it, it magically becomes red! This is a much cheaper option that buying 100 rolls of paper all different colors. Instead, buy white and a pack of over 100 color gels for $10!

If you are not familiar with our camera store, we are located in Dubuque Iowa, and specialize in new and used camera equipment, as well as camera rental, lens rental, and photography classes and photography workshops. Feel free to contact us at (563) 845-7207, or visit our website at www.everyphotostore.com 
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