Getting the Most from 53" White Seamless - Part 2

I'd like to pick up where my last blog post left off and share some of the additional versatility you can get out of a modestly sized roll of white seamless background paper.  The obvious use of white seamless is to create a white background.  The cool thing is that you can easily do so much more with this material.  A few simple lighting changes can give you a nice shade of gray or you can even knock it down to black if you have the space to pull it off.

The gray part is pretty easy.  Just turn off your background lights and the white paper will be underexposed, resulting in some shade of gray.  The darkness of the background can be adjusted by increasing your shutter (up to the limitation of your flash sync speed) or by moving the key light closer to your subject and adjusting the light level accordingly.  Here's what this looks like right out of camera.

You'll notice that I kept my white tile board in place.  This is something that you might prefer to leave out and just roll the paper further onto the floor instead.  Leaving the board in place creates a harsh seam line to deal with in post production.  On the other hand it preserves the model's reflection, which I would like to keep.  Although I created a bit of a post processing work for myself, it's not all too terrible to address.  Depending on the look you want and the amount of post processing work you want to do, you might want to skip the tile board and have your model stand right on the paper.  Just make sure that you are doing this on a hard floor or you'll be cussing when high heels punch holes through your paper.

I'll admit that I wasn't sure at first about the best way to handle the paper to tile board transition.  My good friend and Photoshop artist extraordinaire Mark Heaps suggested using the gradient tool in Photoshop.  I created a duplicate layer of the image and created a mask of my model usingTopaz Labs Remask.  I ended up with the masked model on a top layer and the original shot on a bottom layer.  Next, I used the eyedropper tool to set my foreground color to a shade of gray near my model's head and the background color to a shade of gray near her feet.  I then used the gradient tool to draw a head to toe gradient on the bottom layer.  Holding down the shift key while you drag will keep the gradient perfectly straight.  This created a nice smooth gradient using the colors in the original background and floor.  I then checked the mask and smoothed out any rough transitions, making sure to mask in the bit of reflection in the flooring.

In order to get the required 8x10 image for this shot, I had to do just a bit more work.  First I used the crop tool in Photoshop to create the crop, which left space on either side.  To fix that, I used the marquee tool in Photoshop to select the gray area on one side of the model.  Then, I just used the transform tool to extend the gray area to the new edge of my image.  I repeated this for the other side.  Here's what the final result looks like.

The gray is nice but we can go even darker.  Here is where more space between your subject and the background is a good thing.  I'd love to have moved my model 10 feet or more from the background.  However, the narrow roll of seamless I was using was the limiting factor.  My best option was to get the key light as close as I could.  Since I was using umbrella softboxes with the shaft protruding toward the model, I was limited in that regard as well.  With a couple of 5-in-1 reflectors, I was able to use the black side as flags to keep the light from spilling on the back ground.   Here's what that shot looks like out of the camera.

I used the same gradient method as before, along with a little dodging and burning on the floor shadows to produce the final result.

White seamless is such a versatile and relatively inexpensive background to work with.  There are a lot of creative possibilities.  Certainly grab the 9' roll if you can.  If all you can move around is the 53" roll, it doesn't have to hold you back.  With just a bit of post production work you can make it work and achieve some great results.