Tips for Correcting White Background Issues

Studio photographer Gavin Hoey can attest to the usefulness of a white background. Whether he’s photographing portraits or products, it provides a clean, minimalistic space to highlight his subject. However, even the simplest pieces of equipment come with their own sets of pitfalls to work around. Here, Hoey talks viewers through just a few of the most common challenges artists face:

A white background can be surprisingly difficult to perfect for photographers just starting out in the studio. Luckily, the helpful techniques described in this article are effective on all sorts of backdrops, regardless of size or material.

The Problem: White Background Appears Gray

Just because you may be utilizing a white background doesn’t necessarily mean that it will appear white in a photograph. In fact, often times photographers find that their backgrounds appear quite dark if there isn’t some light to compensate behind the model.

model against grey background

The Solution

One way to lighten the background is to physically move your subject closer to the background. Depending on your studio and lighting set up, you may have to play around with the best way to light your backdrop – in this case, Hoey is able to simply place a pair of strobes behind the back of his model.

The Problem: Exposure Lacks Contrast

Sometimes, photographers shooting models against white backgrounds find that it’s difficult to capture the correct amount of contrast in their images. Edges can easily become blown out, and small details can be lost.

flat overexposed portrait

The Solution

Instead of viewing your image as one, go about finding the proper exposure for the background and the subject separately. Hoey uses a flash meter to take away some of the trial and error of the process. Once you’ve figured out the difference the two, you can adjust your lighting equipment accordingly so the each component is receiving the right amount of light. 

The Problem: Uneven Backdrop Tones

Your goal is to get a consistent, white background. However, depending on the equipment or surroundings you have available, this isn’t always an easily attainable goal.

background with different tonal values

The Solution

What matters most when faced with this scenario is getting the area directly surrounding the model to be as white as possible. In post processing, it’s easy enough to paint in the grey areas to create a more even backdrop.

The Problem: Incorporating a White Floor

At times, including the floor in an image is crucial in getting a well composed, complete shot. However, photographers often find themselves in a predicament when it comes to figuring out how to expose the floor properly.

seated model

The Solution

The fix to this can be as simple as digging up a little bit of reflective material. In this case, Hoey lines the vinyl that his model is seated on with perspex, a clear acrylic sheet. Light from the background will reflect off of the surface and create a much better, brighter looking scene. 

The Problem: Post-Processing

Every now and then, you might be a bit surprised to discover that what you see on the back of your camera doesn’t match the data your computer might be able to pick up from an image file. Often times, you’ll find it difficult to find a spot that’s 100 percent white on the RGB scale.

highlight selection

The Solution

Much of the time, a simple touch of a highlight or brightness slider or a minor adjustment in the image curves can bring your background to where it needs to be. Tools such as the adjustment brush or paint in Lightroom or Photoshop provide quick fixes for areas that may be a little off tonally. 

While it’s true that a white background can present more problems than most anticipate, understanding how to solve those problems is one of the best ways to grow as a photographer. Regardless of the all of the equipment and gear available, even the most experienced image makers sometimes struggle with these details. What’s most important in finding creative solutions is a little bit of patience. Use these troubleshooting tips to your advantage and you’ll be sure to improve your overall studio know-how in no time!

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