When shooting portraits and beauty headshots in-studio, in terms of the background, I’m a huge fan of seamless backdrop paper. Why? Well, it’s extremely inexpensive, comes in a variety of colors, and can be easily swapped out during a shoot to transform the look of any portrait or beauty headshot with a complete change of color. That said, there are times where I want a more intimate portrait, and for that style of backdrop, that typically means something a bit more textured or rich than what a standard seamless paper color can offer. With the background in mind, there are many ways to achieve this more intimate look to your backgrounds. Some options are: creative lighting techniques on the backdrop during shooting, adding a textured overlay layer to the background in editing (Photoshop), adding a vignette in post, and so on. However, another option is to add a painted canvas backdrop to your arsenal of studio tools in-studio when wanting to create a more unique portrait.
This year, Savage Universal has introduced a new line of painted canvas backgrounds, and sent me one to test it out in-studio. These come in two sizes: 5’x7′ and 8’x12′. The one I received for my test shoot was the 5’x7′ Eclipse Canvas Backdrop which is essentially a hand-painted gray color. It ships in a thick cardboard shipping tube for protection, that looks like this size in comparison to an Alien Bee 800 strobe:
The materials here are actually very strong. Unlike seamless paper backdrops that have the background paper wrapped around a cardboard inner tube, this canvas backdrop is securely attached to a metal tube, wood supports, and one velcro strap on each end to keep it secure:
Now here’s the interesting part. Each one of these is hand-painted and billed as a one-of-a-kind item painted on durable canvas. It’s a unique backdrop, and when extended, you can see how truly different this is than a standard gray seamless paper background. Also, for an exact design/pattern, your milage may vary:
Creating a Cozy/Intimate Portrait using the Savage Universal Painted Canvas Backdrop
For this experiment, I wanted to go for a cozy/intimate portrait, and when I shoot portraits in this style, I like to shoot with a really shallow depth of field. Now, you might be thinking, then what’s the point of having a unique hand-painted backdrop if you’re just going to wipe out the background anyway? Well, the answer is tones. What I like about this hand-painted canvas backdrop is that there are subtle changes in the tones that compliment skin tones, and can bring out the “coziness” of the portrait.
So for this soft and intimate look, I whipped out the ringlight I made in my workshop for about $40 in parts. (It’s a contineous light made of standard light bulbs, and extension cord, a dimmer switch, and 12 light sockets.) That’s it. But to me, it creates a beautiful catchlight, and softness that is unmatched. You can see a variety of these soft ringlight portraits in my Ringlight Beauty Headshots section. So after positioning the ringlight, my last step was to place some black V-Flats on the sides, to harness the light and really absorb the light spill on the sides.
Here is the canvas backdrop in action with the complete lighting setup with my DIY ringlight:
The end result is this cozy and intimate portrait of model Aislinn Rose Moore:
What about people who don’t have a studio, DIY ringlight, or any strobes?
Ok, well what if you don’t have a studio, don’t have any studio strobes, and certainly can’t create your own DIY ringlight? Can you still create an intimate portrait? Absolutely. That’s what I liked most about this backdrop. Since the 5′ width in the version I received was very manageable, I also created a separate look with a simple portable backdrop stand, this backdrop, and an open window. That’s it. All with natural-light.
In my studio, I have a large open window that is great for natural light portraits. But you can use a large living room window, the opening to a garage, you name it. In my example, I simply setup the portable backdrop stand fairly close to the window, with the model facing the window. Here is the view from the back:
Here is the view from the front:
Once setup, you can simply move the backdrop stand closer or farther away from the window to achieve the look you’re going for. I really wanted the model to have that window form a beautiful catchlight, so we were extremely close to the window. For this look, I also wanted to increase the intimacy of this shot, and thus, stood on a step ladder for a slightly higher vantage point. Again, since I like shooting with a shallow depth of field for that cozy feel, even though I don’t want great sharpness or detail on the background in this shot, you can see how this custom backdrop creates softer tones than a universal color. Here was the end result:
For me, this canvas backdrop is unique and really enhances the tones and color palette of intimate portraits. I personally enjoy shooting these soft/cozy portraits, and this works very well as another tool in my arsenal when trying to meet the objectives of my clients in-studio. If you have any questions about this setup, my shooting techniques, or anything at all, just drop a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer them. Thanks.
Want to learn more about a photoshoot or have a question?
Interested in a photoshoot? Just use the contact page here to email me with any photo session ideas you may have. If you are interested in portraits or headshots, I shoot professional portraits and professional headshots both outdoors with natural light and/or strobes, or in my San Francisco Bay Area-based photo studio with a wide variety of backdrops and lighting options for many types of projects. Whether it’s fashion photography, portrait photography, yoga or fitness photography, headshot photography, beauty headshot photography, artistic extreme colored gel hypercolor portraits, or anything in-between, I offer affordable rates for many budgets. I look forward to hearing from you. Let’s shoot!