Photography Technique: Black Background

Here we are basically we’re outside. I think it’s, what, two o’clock in the afternoon, so fairly bright day. All I’m using is my, I’ve got a Nikon D800 with a 70 to 200 and I’ve got it’s actually a Canon flash. My Nikon flash wouldn’t work. So I’ve got a Canon flash on here in manual and I’ve got pocket wizards. Invisible black background the theory is here forget your flashes, so turn your flashes off. Literally, just get your camera and think about the speed that your camera and your flash can talk to each other.

I know we have these super duper pocket wizards now that have fairy dust that can make things work really really quickly but just think of things in basic terms. We’ve got a sync speed so the maximum speed that my camera and my flash can talk to each other without talking about hyper sync, hyper sync, is 250th of a second. What I’m going to do is I’m outside I want to create a completely black background and that is going to be my backdrop. I’m gonna come outside, I’m gonna put my camera in manual at 250th of a second and my ISO I’m gonna take down as low as it can go. Because I want my camera to be as least sensitive to light as I can make it. I’m going down to 100 ISO and I’ll choose something like f-11. The idea here is the flashes are off I’m gonna take a shot of our friend here, Gary, also a top photographer.

Take a picture him but I don’t want to see him on the back of my screen I want it to be completely black. We’ll take a shot. We’ll zoom in, take a quick shot, (camera click) like so. The idea here is that nothing should be visible on the screen. You’ll see now that we can actually see something on the back of the screen. What I can’t do to make this darker is speed up my camera. Because we’ve got the maximum speed that they can talk to each other. What I shall do is go from f-11 to f-16 so the eye of the camera closes down, even more, to let less of this light in and make it much darker, so we’ll try that now. We’ll take a shot, (camera click) like so. Now we’ve got a completely blank screen or black screen even. That is my backdrop, I don’t need to go out and buy black rolls or anything like that.

I don’t need to be in a studio. I’m outdoors now, you can hear the birds are singing. We’re outdoors we’re gonna do a black background. Now I wanna light Gary and this is the simple part. My flash is in manual. I’m using an umbrella, real cheap umbrella. I want the light to go into the umbrella and then come back again. The only thing we’ve to have to be careful of here is we’ve got the shaft of the umbrella coming out we don’t take his eye out when we get to close to him. I can close it down. Normally the umbrellas would be really big. We’d have a load of light coming back but I want this to be a tunnel of light just lighting up just a little bit.

We can kind of make this like a softbox by closing it down. So now it’s almost like a cheap softbox. Now my f-16, this is only on these little battery-powered speed lights. They’ve only got so much power so I’m taking that to full power. If it was a really really bright day and the sun was glaring which we aren’t getting that often in the UK at the moment I’d have to use a more powerful battery pack something like Elinchrom rangers or Hensel Porty and things like that. This is just a normal speed light a Canon speed light, Nikon camera, but on full power, we’ll take the shot. The pocket wizards are on. We’ll just do a quick test shot so don’t look at the light, Gary. Okay, so quick test shot. All I’m gonna do now is just see where my light is gonna land on Gary. And (camera click) there we go. Now you can see on the screen we’ll jump over to the computer now that we’ve got a completely black background and Gary is lit.

All I would do now is just move my light around to get the kind of lighting that I want to him. Nice and simple, nice and quick, it’s a good little trick that you can have in your photography toolbag for when you’re out and about to get the kind of shots that you need rather than being in a studio. Loads of questions about this some people have said to me I can’t seem to get the background really completely dark when they’re indoors. That might be because we’ve got a flash here you might be too close to the wall. Even if you take a shot without the flash on it’s completely black the minute you turn that flash on that’s gonna bounce all around the room and you’re gonna start to get some of that light in.

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