Tutorial by Light Hunters – Photographs with White Backgrounds

Tutorial by Light Hunters – Photographs with White Backgrounds

Photographs with White Backgrounds

In this article we are going to explain how to achieve light painting photographs with a white background – a simple technique which, with a little imagination, can create very cool results.

First of all we are going to need to learn how to achieve a totally blown out image using a bit of trial and error.

To follow along with this tutorial, you are going to need access to: a wall, a piece of cloth or a piece of cardboard – which should be white (or as close to white as possible) so as to be easy to overexpose and of a sufficient size to easily fill the entire frame.

You’ll also need access to a torch, a spotlight or a flash for illuminating this background – the more powerful these are the faster you will be able burn out the background faster and the shorter the overall exposure time.

Now we have the relevant equipment, let us see how it is done

If you have a wall available, once you have got the camera set up simply start the exposure and begin illuminating the background – either from behind the camera or by illuminating the wall from the front whilst moving. The aim is to completely burn out the background without showing up in the frame ourselves.

How long does this take?  The answer is that it depends massively on the brightness of the flashlight you are using – if your light source is weak you might need to play with increasing the ISO or opening up the aperture in order to be able to blow out the background faster.  The idea is to end up with an exposure which is completely exposed to the right of the histogram.

If you are using a standard DSLR camera, you will need to use trial and error to work out how long you need in order to blow out the background.  If, on the other hand, you are using an Olympus and are in Live Composite mode, you will be able to see the results on the screen in real time and so work out whether you have managed to overexpose everything correctly or whether there are still areas of the shot which are not blown out.

If you don’t have access to a convenient wall, but you do have a large piece of white fabric, you will need to vary the technique slightly, but the results will be exactly the same. 

Firstly, you will need to make sure that the fabric has the minimum number of creases possible.  How you do this depends on what you have to hand – you can hang the fabric from a rope, attach a cord to each corner, ask a couple of friends to stretch it out during the shot, etc.  The key point is to remove the wrinkles as much as possible.

Once you have the fabric prepared, set off the camera and this time, you will need to light up the sheet from behind, pointing your flashlight / flash towards the camera.  Just like with using a wall as your background, the amount of time needed to over-expose the background depends on the brightness of your light source – once it shows up as completely blown out, you have achieved your white background ready for light painting.

Now we have seen how it is possible to create a purely white background, all that is needed is to position an element between your camera and the background.

It is very important, if you want to ensure that the silhouette comes out perfectly, that the model moves as little as possible during the exposure of the white background.

If you want to fill the silhouette with something, once you have overexposed the background, simply ask the model or object out of frame and fill in the silhouette where they used to be using one or more light painting tools – a flashlight with colour filters, fibre optic brushes, Plexy Shapes or tubes, LED strip, an image on your phone or tablet – as you will see the possibilities are practically endless.

Now we are going to show you a few simply examples

In this photo we can see Loren creating himself a self-portrait.

To do this he initially burnt out the wall behind him using a flash and also using the help of a flashlight to correct any areas which were a little underexposed.

Afterwards he put a lens cap on the lens and changed to a second tripod which he had set up in advanced, pointing at his computer screen which was filled with an image of bubbles.  At this point, we quickly remove the lens cap, leave the camera to expose the image for a few seconds and then stop the exposure. 

This is the result

Obviously, this type of photography often requires a series of test shots until everything fits together nicely. 

We’re going to see a couple of other examples

In this occasion, rather than using a model we will use an object – in this case an Askiko or African drum. 

We burn out the background by hand using a flashlight and an Olympus in live composite mode so we can make sure we have burned everything out evenly.

We cover the lens in the same way we did for the previous photo and we change tripod to a second tripod which is already set up and focused on a tablet, on which we have a previously selected image.  At this point we uncover the lens, check the exposure on the back of the camera and stop the exposure when we are happy with it.

This is the result

Here you can see a few more examples.  When filling in the silhouette you can use practically anything which comes to mind – the possibilities are almost endless: fibre optics, acrylic rods and sheets, lasers, putting people inside the silhouettes, etc.

With imagination you can have a lot of fun with this technique and, even better, you can expand your creative horizons.

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