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Archive 2013 · Background color for infant portraits
  
 
baskars
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p.1 #1 · Background color for infant portraits


Folks,

I am trying to set up a portable studio at my home. I have modest equipment (Canon 30D, 580EX II, shoot through umbrella stand, etc). I am trying to photograph my 7 month old.

a) What colored background should I use?
b) Also, can I get some help on what material I should buy?

I bought Savage White seamless paper, but to use it well, I require stands that I don't want to buy for lack of space. I would appreciate any help on this.

Thanks.
Baskar



Apr 20, 2013 at 05:59 AM
cgardner
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p.1 #2 · Background color for infant portraits


In terms of goals for any portrait is is drawing and holding attention to the face of the subject. An important strategy for doing that is selecting a background where nothing else contrasts more with it .

The biggest potential distraction in a infant shot is the white diaper. The best strategy to minimize the distraction? Photograph on a white background it will blend with seamlessly.

For older infants wearing pink or blue jumpers if the outfit is a light pastel it will also work OK on white because it doesn't contrast as much. Pink also blends colorwise with the skin. However blue for boys contrast with the pink skin and can become a color contrast distraction from the face. In cases where you notice the outfit distracts from the face it would be helpful to have pastel pink and blue backgrounds the outfits will blend into. Again the goal is making the face contrast more.

A red background is good to have around Christmas to deal with the Little-Santa outfits. That red outfit will be a huge distraction on white or other neutral background but on a matching red background all you'll see is the contrasting face.

Keep the same thing in mind with props. If the kid is in the foreground and a purple Barney is in the background the viewer's eye will get pulled off the baby to check out Barney. Brightly colored toys might be cute, but they will also distract from the subject's face unless they are posed near the face. So when selecting props consider whether or not they will match the background and blend in or contrast with it and attract attention to the face.

Black backgrounds can work well in wider shots where on or both parents are also in the shot holding the baby. But something to keep in mind on dark backgrounds is that any bare skin other than the face will distract from the faces and that white diaper will have maximum contrast and can become a distraction if seen large in the shot.

On all backgrounds you can control how the faces contrast with the background vs. everything else contrast with lighting modifer choices and editing strategies. On darker backgrounds "feathering" the light so the face is slightly brighter than the feet will keep attention focused on the face longer than a shot where the feet are brighter than the face. The concept to keep in mind on a background darker than the face is: 'put the star of the show in the spotlight'.

On white backgrounds the dynamic is opposite: the darker and more saturated skin tones will attract and hold the most attention. So on white in a full body shot the strategy to make the face more dominant than the feet in terms of attraction via tonality is to feather the light down away from the face and make the face a bit darker or selectively desaturate the feet a bit in post processing to make the face seem more saturated by comparison. Just remember when setting lights and props what contrasts the most on the white background will attract and hold the attention the most.

Nuancing of lighting isn't practical when shooting kids because they seldom cooperate, so the KISS strategy is to use even lighting with adequate centered fill to keep the shadows light and 'happy' looking and avoid any unfilled dark areas, then during the editing process create tonal gradients between face and other distractions with dodge/burn or adjustment layers.

It's the expression that makes or breaks a baby shot and the window of opportunity to get a happy smiling one can be very short with some so you want to keep everything else simple. Centered light strategies work better for babies and kids too young to follow verbal instructions (or in the case of 2 year-olds understanding but refusing out of spite) because if key light is to the side the kid will be facing away with unflattering shadows on the face half the time.

On a white background in a small white wall space often all you need is a single large white umbrella (with out cover) as key light, allowing the 'spill' fill of the walls and ceilings to act as wrap-around fill.

With both speedlights and studio lights for reclining infants I'll bounce the light off the ceiling for key and fill and use any direct lights behind and above as accents because it will provide KISS flattering results no matter how the baby is oriented. The lighting comes down from the ceiling to the reclining face similar natural light from an overhead sky.
When using a bouncing strategy like that you'll want to set Custom WB off a gray card when setting up to eliminate any color cast from the bouncing. Custom WB and a test shot with the card in it as an editing reference is a good practice with any lighting set-up.



Apr 20, 2013 at 12:41 PM
swoop
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p.1 #3 · Background color for infant portraits


Yellow works well for children.


Apr 20, 2013 at 08:44 PM
BrianO
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p.1 #4 · Background color for infant portraits


baskars wrote:
...I am trying to photograph my 7 month old. ...I bought Savage White seamless paper, but to use it well, I require stands that I don't want to buy for lack of space.


One idea is to cut off sections of the seamless paper as needed and use tacks or tape to attach it to a wall. You'd place it down near floor level since that's the safest place to put your child during a session. You could then put pillows or couch cushions or something like that under a white sheet or large white bath towel as a platform, or just use the floor with or without a sheet/towel or an extension of the seamless.

As an aside, when storing your roll of seamless, don't store it laying on the floor; it'll quickly get compression creases that will show as repeating horizontal lines when you unroll it.

Instead, store it on end if you don't have a place to hang the tube suspended off the floor.



Apr 21, 2013 at 05:28 AM
 

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John Skinner
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p.1 #5 · Background color for infant portraits


I'm going to just add my 2 cents here..

If I had only 1 choice in a background. It's a neutral gray. This lends itself to real ease of compositing with layers of 50% neutral gray in Photoshop. I can add ANY background, shadows, with a real believable look to them.

If I need HiKey, I'm going to get a white anything, a cheap speedlight of any kind and just blow my background out 1.5 stops higher than my subject. Instant white.

The look of taking those photos on gray is horrid whilst shooting. But keeping in mind the light placement itself, and the final 'look' you would like to create, it's flawless.

There is a guy named Calvin Hollywood that shoots on grey for his patch work images and his technique and yours.... Anything is possible.



Apr 21, 2013 at 06:16 PM
aborr
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p.1 #6 · Background color for infant portraits


I agree with most of what's been said in earlier posts. The general rule is light backgrounds for lighter subjects; darker backgrounds for darker subjects. Light gray or white is often a good starting point for kids.

White works well for portraits of small children - if you don't light the background it photographs about a stop below white and ends up light gray in the final image. If you want to go a bit darker or are shooting close to the background, a light gray works well, too. "Studio Gray" (Savage paper color #12) is a good general purpose background for a lot of uses. It's kind of counter-intuitive, but if you want to use a colored (gelled) light to add interest to a background, it's a lot easier if you start with gray rather than white.

With white and gray, it's also easy to replace the background color in post with whatever color you choose - I often add a gradient background in Photoshop rather than fiddle with background lights to make a plain background more interesting. If you start with a plain evenly lit background, you can either leave it alone or replace it with something else in post.

I tend to avoid bright colored backgrounds for portraits - If you're not careful you end up with the kind of shot that came from the worst of the shopping mall photo studios in the 1980's. YMMV

Al



Apr 24, 2013 at 08:31 AM
328iGuy
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p.1 #7 · Background color for infant portraits


John Skinner wrote:
I'm going to just add my 2 cents here..

If I had only 1 choice in a background. It's a neutral gray. This lends itself to real ease of compositing with layers of 50% neutral gray in Photoshop. I can add ANY background, shadows, with a real believable look to them.

If I need HiKey, I'm going to get a white anything, a cheap speedlight of any kind and just blow my background out 1.5 stops higher than my subject. Instant white.

The look of taking those photos on gray is horrid whilst shooting. But keeping in mind the light placement itself,
...Show more

I go by the same rules. I only use "Thunder Gray" and love it, so flexible in what colour you make it, whatever suits the shoot more less.



Apr 24, 2013 at 05:04 PM





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