White Background Photography: Step-by-Step Guide for Portraits

 White Background Photography: Step-by-Step Guide for Portraits

Capturing a model on seamless white paper, also known as white background photography, can produce images that have a timeless quality. Capturing against white backgrounds allows us to dress the model in any color with no fear of colors clashing or blending in an undesirable manner. Images taken against seamless white paper are also in high demand for ECOM shoots and fashion lookbooks where the clothing designer wants all of the viewer’s attention on the clothing and none of that attention on the lighting or photographic technique. Headshot photography is another area where a white background is desirable.

Because white background photography looks so simple, clients can mistakenly assume that it is easy to photograph a subject in this manner. These same clients may undervalue your mastery of lighting and attempt to underpay you for a photo shoot done against a white background.

In this article, we will explain the gear you will need to create these images and the process you will need to use to ensure that your lighting is arranged properly so that the background in the images is indeed white. Once you understand the complexity of the shoot and the size of the studio space you will need, you can convey this information to your client and demand that you be paid appropriately for your knowledge of lighting white background photos. The essential steps you will need to follow are outlined below.

How to Shoot on a White Background

Our first step in creating a portrait against a pure white background is to ask ourselves, how many elements will the viewer see in the final image? The answer is two elements -the main subject and the background. We will need to light both of these elements, and we must light these elements separately. In our final setup, there will be two foreground lights dedicated to lighting the subject and two background lights that are dedicated to illuminating the background.

The basic principle that you must understand is that the lights designated as illuminating one particular element are controlled so that they do not illuminate the second element in the photograph. To be precise, it is important that the background lights do not add too much light. If the background lights produce so much light that some of that light spills onto the subject, this will create a flare that reduces the contrast in the final image.

These are the steps necessary to create an image of a subject photographed against a white background.

Camera Settings for White Background Photography

Lock in your camera settings at ISO 100, Shutter 1/160, and aperture f5.6.

Use a shutter speed of 1/160. Most cameras will synchronize with strobe lights at a shutter speed setting of 1/160. If your camera can synchronize at a higher shutter speed, feel free to use that setting. It is not advisable to use a slow shutter speed such as 1/60. The lights will synchronize with your camera at this setting, but you may get motion blur or unwanted ambient light in the final image.

If you are an experienced studio shooter and you have an artistic reason to use a specific aperture, you should use that setting. If you are new to studio photography, set your aperture to f5.6. This aperture setting will give some depth of field so that your subject is in focus. Also, even a cheap, third-party lens is likely to produce good detail and sharpness at f5.6.

The low ISO setting is designed to have you shoot at, or close to, your camera’s native ISO setting, as this is where the sensor will have the highest dynamic range.

Quincy S. Austin


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