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Getting Your Backgrounds White

A roll of white paper is relatively inexpensive as far as backgrounds go, so it’s easy to purchase. I love either just plain white or simply black for background color. But the number one complaint I get from listeners is, how come it comes out gray?

The picture below shows exactly what I am talking about. I got a request to do some headshots of the staff at my church. They wanted one to be a bit on the whimsical side and a bit more “funny looking.” And another to be a standard headshot. This first one shows the fun with only two lights—an umbrella upfront and a hair light in the back. See the gray that happens on my snow-white background? It does not look bright white at all.

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Aim a light directly onto the background, and the gray begins to disappear. The more light that you add, the brighter and whiter it becomes. Keep adding light, and you can get a cool high key effect.

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The above is just one light just to the right of the subject. As you can see, it is still not flat pure white. There is still a hint of gray, but you can see what I am talking about. In this instance, we did not want pure white according to customer specifications, but you can tell that adding just one more light to the left and maybe cranking her up a notch would erase all gray hints. So the answer to the question is to add more light to the background.