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Getting a true black background?

Discussion in 'Studio Equipment and Lighting' started by ERAUGrad04, Sep 13, 2008.

  1. ERAUGrad04


    Jan 15, 2008
    I have been experimenting with my new black muslin backdrop and I am having a bit of trouble getting the background completly black. I have the subject about 5-6' away from the backdrop and I am shooting a 1/200 sec and typically f/4. Two strobes are fired through 43'' wescott umbrellas. My backgrounds are coming out with quite a bit of light on them when the strobes are fired at a level appropriate to correctly expose the subject. When I pull the images into NX2 and use the black eye dropper tool, I end up with a very contrasty image.

    I will try to post a picture as soon as I can, but in the mean time, any suggestions on teqnique?

    Thanks for input and suggestions!

  2. Morgan,

    There are several different approaches to darken the background. The closer the strobes are to the subject...the greater the light fall off (and darker the background). For the following shot (1/80th @ f/5.6, ISO 200), I placed an umbrella within a foot or so of the subject:

    NIKON D300    ---    85mm    f/5.6    1/80s    ISO 200

    Basically, I first set the camera (in Manual Mode) for an exposure that will severely underexpose the scene given the level of ambient light. Then, add flash to properly expose the subject. If the subject is far enough away from the background and the light source is close enough the the subject, the background will go completely black.

    I hope this helps...
  3. Nice shot glenn.
  4. Thanks! I got the idea from a photo of Carlos Zambrano (who threw a no-hitter last night) out of the Chicago Cubs program.

  5. Miguel


    May 12, 2006
    Norwalk, CT
    Try increasing the distance between the subject and the background if you can, that will help. Second, umbrellas have less light fall-off compared to softboxes, you may want to try a softbox. Or maybe try feathering the light from the umbrella so it just skims across your subject. Hope this helps.
  6. Remember the "Family of Angles." You could try pushing the bottom of the muslin back behind the feet of the stands so that the background has a bit of a downward slant. But even better would be gobos. Place one between each lamp and the background. Position them to block the light from reaching the background while not blocking it from your subject. You can make gobos yourself or, as I've done, buy black foamcore from an art shop.
  7. I use a BLACK VELVET sheet !

    Although it's much more expensive than muslin, it's "hairy" surface retains much more light, so it's easier to get a real black background with it !

    Just my 2 centimes !

  8. Ray C.

    Ray C.

    Nov 7, 2005
    Morgan, the suggestions for getting it right in-camera are spot on. But if you have some images you've already shot and want to darken the black BG, you can use Photoshop. Image>>Adjustments>>Selective Color Select Black and then black again and use the slider. It only affects the black in the image and not overall contrast. Works quite well in many cases.
  9. Or, if you use Capture NX2, you can use the Selective Control Point to make a quick selection of the backgroud. Then choose Colorize and change it to any color you want with one click (using the eyedropper tool). That's how I changed the background on this shot from grey to blue in approximately 5 seconds!

    NIKON D700    ---    105mm    f/16.0    1/60s    ISO 200

  10. ERAUGrad04


    Jan 15, 2008
    Ok Glenn, I have to ask, How did you do that?!?! I am still learning the ropes with NX2 and I would love to be able to change a background like that!

  11. lisa_h


    Sep 6, 2008
    New England
    Morgan--- a quick way to get your backdrop black in PS is to use the threshold to see what isn't completely black--- b/c sometimes it looks black but will show up in print the areas that are not. I used Glen's shot as an example (hope you don't mind Glen-- I'll remove this if you want me too--- this is a fantastic shot). I could see on my screen areas that weren't black. When you open it in PS and open the threshold and slide it all the way to the left you can see all the white. Black should be black.


    So what I do is choose burn, for the shadows, at 5%

    and voila, now the black is completely black. If it makes your subject darker you can just mask back :)  Hope that helps.

    View attachment 252898
  12. lisa_h


    Sep 6, 2008
    New England
    And Glen---- ummmm, how did you do that in NX2?????

    WOW. That shot rocks.
  13. Thanks Lisa...I don't mind at all.
  14. Lisa,

    I use a similar approach in NX2...with an added step.

    To make the background go black (as in the baseball player image), I use the following:

    Adjust>>Color>>LCH>>and then drag the left slider of the histogram to the right...this will make the dark portions of the image go black.

    The above step can be applied selectively. To do this, make sure that the adjustment step is still highlighted and then make a selection. I tend to use the Selection Control Point (+) and then select the background. This enables the above step to be applied only to the background (and not the subject). You can clean things up a bit by using the Selection Brush (-) to ensure that the player is NOT selected when darkening the background.

    If the background is fairly uniform in color and brightness, I sometimes use the Selection Control Point (+) to select the background and then change the background to a different color (see the flower image with the blue background that I posted).

    To do this, use the Selection Control Point (+) to select the background only and then:

    Filter>>Colorize>>and then click on the eye dropper to select a color from your image...or click on the color bar to go to the Color Picker...which allows you to select from various tones (Foliage, Skin, Sky, or Neutral Tones). For the flower shot, I selected a sky tone. Apply to Colorize step and the background changes instantly from black to sky tone!

    Every so often, I use the Colorize tool in a more subtle way. I might have a composition of a subject with a blotch of distracting color in a portion of the image. The color might be small...but a red blotch near the corner might be a major distraction. So, I use the Selective Control Point (+) to quickly grab that particular portion of the photos and then colorize that segment using the eyedropper (with a color that blends seamlessly into the rest of the photo). Yesterday, I posted some images of birds. Unfortunately, the birds were tagged and the collars around their legs were a distracting color (green and bright blue)...so, I colorized the tags to match the rest of the bird's legs--so the tags are hardly noticeable.

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