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Activity Forums Lighting Design cheap, seemless gray backdrop equivalent?

  • cheap, seemless gray backdrop equivalent?

    Posted by Jon Iverson on January 10, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    I’ve been trying to take a few portraits of myself and family in my home. Unfortunately, the walls don’t do well and I am looking for a cheap background that I can put up and take down easily. I initially looked into the cheapest Muslin fabric I see all over online, but reviews seem poor as it seems to have wrinkle issues. The seemless paper seems to be the way to go, but starting at like $30, not including shipping, is a deal breaker for me. I want to use a neutral gray background, not too dark or light. 6×9 foot size, not the big rolls that most of the venders sell. Unfortunately, no photography stores nearby, but there are art stores like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby. Would they have the equivalent paper or something that would work? Thanks.

    Mark Suszko replied 4 years, 7 months ago 4 Members · 5 Replies
  • 5 Replies
  • John Sharaf

    January 10, 2019 at 3:13 pm

    Use a white sheet and keep the light off of it, ratio of foreground light to it will determine grayness

    All this at no cost to you



  • Todd Terry

    January 10, 2019 at 3:21 pm

    As long as you are doing just head-and-shoulders portraits, you could go to Hobby Lobby or Michaels and get the largest sheet of white (or whatever color) foamcore that they sell. Only a few bucks. If you want a gray backdrop, buy white… white is whatever color you light it. Don’t light it fully and you have gray.

    If you need something bigger, try a local sign shop. We buy 4×8 sheets of foamcore there (we cut them in half to make 4×4 bounce cards) where we get them for a fraction of the price of what you’d pay at FilmTools or other industry sources.

    John’s white sheet is the perfect no-cost answer, but you seem to be struggling with wrinkles, which is why I’m suggesting something rigid like foamcore.


    Todd Terry
    Creative Director
    Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

  • Jon Iverson

    January 10, 2019 at 3:42 pm

    The problem is that I really don’t have anything to hang a sheet. Right now, I actually do have a white sheet draped across a piece of fishing line I strung from wall to wall. Of course no good due to wrinkles. The paper I could just tape up somewhere, maybe even an existing wall. Space is sort of limited, so really didn’t want to have to go and get a proper stand for the sheet. Too bad a closest hanger wouldn’t stretch between walls, but too long.

    I like the idea of the foamboard, but seems limited up to about 24×36″. With a kit lens, it will be tough to not have undesired background at the edges. That is, unless I switched out to my prime 135 mm lens. I never thought about using primes for portraits and certainly haven’t tried, so not sure how that would work. Also, less light with the prime. I’m using an umbrella softbox (front closes) with speedlight and I place a white foamboard reflector where needed.

  • Jon Iverson

    January 11, 2019 at 6:13 pm

    Well, it looks like I’m simply going to be able to use one of my white walls, although lighting and using the white sheet for high key might be used at a later date. I find speedlights sort of hit and miss, so the speedlight illumination of the sheet will take some trial and error (all manual flashes). Thanks for all the suggestions here, however.

  • Mark Suszko

    February 6, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    Another option for you is to go to the local home improvement store and find the materials for a “V-Flat”. You have a couple of options here; two 4×8 panels of wallboard, you paint the back sides of them with flat white primer, hinge them with tape, and they will stand up nice… or lean them against a wall, or even take them outside and use them with cloudy daylight. Want it wider, ad a panel and hinge and make it a “W” instead of a “V”. Or you can turn the panels sideways sometimes, if you have stands or a ladder to support them.

    Option two is to use 4×8 foam insulation panels from the same home improvement store. Hinged with some duct tape or the better, metallic, air conditioning duct sealer tape, this can be self-standing when posed as a “v”. The foam is vulnerable to solvent-based paints, but you can use inexpensive water-based latex paints on it. That seals the foam and then you can throw almost any paint over that if needed. I recommend Kilz brand latex primer on foam.

    There are tons of youtube videos out there of photographer tips on making and using a V-Flat. They make great bounce light sources as well as backgrounds in their own right.

    Old story, but I once shot a video where I had to do three different locations -in the studio- and I did it with just one, 20-dollar, 4×8 piece of rec room wallboard, the kind with a fake brick surface. While at the store, I also picked up a one-roll sampler of two different kinds of wallpaper. Scene one, “the alley”, I just used the brick side normally, as BG for a close-up of the actor. Scene two: the kitchen, I put the wallpaper sample on the back side of the 4×8 sheet with 3M-77 contact adhesive spray, added some ceramic ducks, a calendar and a framed photo to it with magnets, bam, ready to shoot in ten minutes. Scene three; turned the 4×8 sideways to use as background for a tight 2-shot, used the second roll of wallpaper sample. But roller-ed or rattlecan spray paint, directly on the back of the board would have worked, too.

    The wallpaper samples were, I think, $5 each so my total outlay for three “sets” was around 30 bucks.

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