Getting the Most from 53" White Seamless - Part 1

I was asked by a model friend of mine to do a group shot of her and a couple of other models in front of a pure white background.  This clearly called for some white seamless, which I didn't have at the time she asked.  Not to disappoint, I agreed to the task anyway!

My first job was to acquire some white seamless.  I made a quick trip to my local camera store and found that you can get two sizes: 53" or 107" (basically 4.5 or 9 feet.)  The 107" roll was what I really needed but that wasn't going to fit in my compact car.  I would just have to make do with the 53" roll.  Keep in mind this is for a group shot!  Not to worry though, I had an idea of how to make 3 girls fit on 4.5 feet of background.

Next on the agenda was to figure out how to hang the roll of seamless paper.  I looked at background support kits and they appeared to be just light stands with a crossbar of some sort.  Well, I already had plenty of stands at home (I think they must be breeding in my garage.)  I just needed a crossbar and some clamps.  The camera store had several options that would have cost me from $50 to $100.  That sure seemed like a lot to hang a stick!  I also knew I would need some A-clamps to keep my paper from unrolling.  Those were $5 each at camera store prices.  I'm all about supporting my local shop but that seemed a bit much knowing they are usually $1 at most hardware stores.  I left the shop with my paper but missing a few key components.

Back at home, I had an idea and dug through the back recesses of my closet where some drum hardware from my band days resided.  I found something that I thought would work - a couple of tom-tom clamps used to mount drums to stands.  These types of clamps are relatively cheap at around $18.  They are usually called L-rod clamps and you can find them at music stores like this.  They will readily clamp on to light stands.

For the crossbar, I headed up to Home Depot and bought a 10 foot section of electrical conduit.  It cost about $4 and they were nice enough to cut it in half for me.  While I was there, I picked up a few A-clamps for my paper roll at 99 cents each.  I thought at first that I'd drill a hole through each end of the conduit to slide over the L-rod on my clamps.  When I got home and experimented, I found that my setup would be perfectly stable if I just slid the conduit over the end of the L-rod and pushed my stands inward.  Barring someone bumping into it pretty darn hard, the crossbar and paper roll sat fine and felt plenty sturdy.

Below is what the setup looks like in action.  Taking a tip from Zack Arias' great white seamless tutorial, I used a piece of white tile board for the flooring.  This was also acquired from Home Depot for about $14 if I remember right (thanks to my buddy Wes and his truck for helping me pick it up!)  That keeps high heels from destroying your paper while giving a pleasing reflection.  I used a couple of flagged speedlights to illuminate the paper to about 1.5 stops brighter than my key light.

So, back to that group shot.  To pull it off, I shot the models individually for a composite image.  One girl would be a little behind the others (kind of a V shape) so I shot their individual images in those positions by having the two in the front take a step forward from where the girl in the back stood and I moved my key light the same distance.  To keep the camera perspective right, I put it on a tripod that stayed in the same position for all shots.  I shot as tight as I could, making sure there was plenty of blown out white background around all sides.  Even with a 100mm lens, I wasn't able to fill the frame with a white background on a full body shot.  For my purposes, it wouldn't matter if stuff was showing outside the paper as long as I had clean white space all around the model.

A shot like the above can easily be put onto whatever size white canvas that you want in Photoshop.  Since I use Lightroom to convert my raw files, I first cropped out my model and as much of the white space as I could.  Don't worry if you have any areas on the floor or background that aren't blown out.  You can use an adjustment brush in Lightroom or a masked exposure adjustment layer in Photoshop to kick them to white.  I took the initial cropped image of the model on white into Photoshop and used the crop tool there to extend the white space.  To do that, first make sure that the background color is set to white.  Then use the crop tool to create a crop of the desired size, say 8x10, extending it outside the current image size and positioning the subject where you would like in the frame.  Hit enter and Photoshop will fill in the empty space in the newly sized frame with white.  The above image easily became this:

I positioned each of my models at appropriate positions on a wide white background and brought them together on individual layers in Photoshop.  From there, it's a simple matter to use masks to make them appear to be standing together.  There is clean white space all around so the canvas size can be easily adjusted to accomodate a logo or text.

While it would be nice to have the 9 foot roll of paper, it's not practical for me at the moment.  I like the portability of the 53" roll and with a little effort it can be workable even for a group shot.  Stay tuned for my next blog entry for more my exploration with white seamless.