Invisible Black Background Photography Technique
Hello everyone and welcome to 2017!! I just love the start of a new year, with a new round of creative, professional and personal goals and the inspiration of a fresh new slate. This month, the Peers will be focusing on different photography techniques throughout the month to help you grow your creative arsenal. I am starting things off with an awesome technique that allows you to convert any area into a compelling black background. Ready to kick off 2017? Then come on in and join me . . .
Have you ever seen those stunning photos where the only the subject is lit and fades into a stark black background? Well, you can create that effect in a studio with a professional black backdrop (which can be quite pricey), OR you can create it ANYwhere you want with the following technique. All you need is (1) a camera that will operate in manual mode and (2) an off camera light source (either a speedlight flash or other directed light source).
Here is an example of the type of look you can achieve with this technique:
You might think that I took this photo in a dark room with a dark background, but I actually took it outside during the day with no background at all. Here is the photo with regular daytime camera settings:
Ready to get started? There are three (3) simple steps you need to follow:
Step 1: Camera Settings
As mentioned above, you will need a camera that operates in manual mode. First, Set your ISO to the minimum working amount (either 100 or 200 for most cameras). Next, set your Shutter Speed to the fastest setting that will work with your off-camera flash (1/200th of a second will probably work with most cameras/flashes). Finally, you need to determine which Aperture (FStop) will work with your ambient lighting conditions. You may need to play with this setting a bit to determine which one will work, but I suggest starting at f/8.0 and proceeding from there. To determine the best Aperture setting, you need to take a photo of the subject without the flash (or off camera light source). The goal is to get a result that is totally black. If objects are discernible under the f/8.0 setting, bump it up until you get a completely black photo. This is how your background will appear in the final photo. Once the Aperture is set, you are ready to take the photo.
Step 2: Positioning the Flash (Off Camera Light) and Subject
If you are using an off-camera flash, you need to have a remote trigger (or a camera that is capable of firing the flash remotely). The light should be coming only from the off camera source, not from the pop-up flash on your camera. If you do not have an off-camera flash, you can use an alternate light source such as a high beam flood light or flash light. My photo was taken with an off-camera flash (Canon 430EXii), but I did some test shots with a smaller object and a flash light that also worked.
The off-camera light source should be placed at a 90 degree angle to the subject. You also want to position the subject so that they are looking toward the light source. I used the flash without a softbox or diffuser because I wanted a very edgy look to the photo. You can soften the light to achieve a different effect if you use some type of diffuser. The distance between the subject and the light source will vary depending on how edgy you want the light to appear. My suggestion is to take some test shots, changing the distance between the subject and the light source until you achieve the look you desire.
You also want to make sure that there are not any objects or barriers (such as walls) close to the subject that might catch the light from the off-camera source (unless you want them in the photo). I shot my photo in the middle of the back yard where there weren’t any obstacles in the direct line of the light.
Here is a picture of how I set up the above shot (although the subject was actually sitting in a chair in that photo) :
Step 3: Post-Processing
There are several things you can do in post-processing to step up the look of your photo. I completed my post-processing in Photoshop, but you could also use Lightroom or any other photo processing program. If you have any areas of background that show up, a targeted levels or curves adjustment will fix these. Select the affected area and adjust the darkness settings until it matches the rest of the darkened background. You can also use the levels/curves settings to brighten the subject if necessary.
I also really like the dramatic effect of a black and white adjustment with this technique. Here is what my photo looks like when converted to black and white:
And that is it! You can achieve this look anywhere, anytime – as long as you have a manual mode camera and separate light source. Imagine how amazing a photo like this would be be blended into a digital background. 🙂
Until next time ~