Backgrounds - How to get the right setup

Discussion in 'Lighting' started by Robert Kennedy, Dec 10, 2002.

  1. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

    Messages:
    750
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Just north o
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    O.k. So I've realized that I need a choice in backgrounds for my living roo---I mean home studio. The white walls of my home are killing me. It's like shooting a big diffuser. Good at times, not at others.

    So I figure a decent background stand and some paper rolls would good to have. I can move between black and white, etc.

    Looking around, it seems there are a lot of choices for stands and a lot of choices for backgrounds.

    Any hints here? I'm thinking I need a 12' wide setup ideally. But do I have to worry about getting stuck in a proprietary system or anything like that?
     
  2. carlweese

    carlweese Member

    Messages:
    51
    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2002
    If portability isn't an issue, you can make your own stands from 2x4's and a bit of plywood. Bogan's accessories can be used with the fancy large stands or with simpler light stands. The elaborate systems with chain drives and so on only make sense for a busy commercial setup where time is money so fast set changes pay the overhead for fancy background systems. Also, unless you will specialize in large groups or maybe still life setups shot with extreme wide lenses taking in a sweep of background, the 12 foot rolls are probably overkill. Much better color selection in the shorter length.
     
  3. bmac

    bmac Member

    Messages:
    2,156
    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2002
    Location:
    San Jose, CA
    Yes, 2X4's and plywood look really classy [​IMG] Bogen makes a crossbar for seamless paper. It is about $40 and connects to two bogen (or other brand) light stands. The whole setup costs around $100 (US). IT breaks down and can be carried in a stand bag or case.
     
  4. BobF

    BobF Member

    Messages:
    205
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Pikes Peak
    After years of using 2x4 and electrical conduit to hang fabric drops and blankets, I finally got fed up and bought a stand and pole set up by JTL. It works for about 10' on two 9' stands for $110.00 locally. More then adequate for home studio use and is about as cheap as you can get. It is not much more then buying a couple of equivalent strength light stands would cost you. BTW they sell 12' also.

    Then you get to spend more money on backdrops cause that old blanket just doesn't cut it any more. For drops you can get paper rolls or painted muslin, but you can also go cheaper with painting your own muslin or use velour blankets and sheets. I have a painted muslin that I got used but often use a dark blue and a white velour blanket that you can change with colored strobes. The dark blue for instance photographs as pure black to pale blue depending on the lighting.

    Bob
     
  5. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    17,943
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Honolulu, Ha
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    When I was regularly using my apartment as a studio (and had an apartment that was suitable), I put hooks into the wall and hung a crosspole from it to support seamless paper. You could do the same from the ceiling as well. It's cheap and easy, looks perfectly respectable, and you don't have background stands getting in the way of things.
     
  6. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

    Messages:
    750
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Just north o
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    O.k., So would I be better off with a 9'? It sounds like it. I'd like to be able to do small, max 4 people, shoots as well as people reclining.
     
  7. William Levitt

    William Levitt Member

    Messages:
    214
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Nuernberg, G
    I would suggest 2 Bogen (Manfrotto) Autopoles with a crossbar. The Autopoles are springloaded so the "wedge" between the floor and ceiling, and have a U hook to hold a crossbar. Lightweight, affordable (also found used on Ebay), no tripod legs taking up space when open or to trip over, and more stable than the tripod system.

    There use to be an item called a "Timber Topper". A metal box loaded with two springs that fit over the end of a 2X4. You would first cut the 2X4 a few inches shorter than the height of your ceiling, then put the timber topper on the end, and you could "wedge" the 2X4 into a vertical position. The poor mans Autopole. I used this system after getting out of school 25 years ago. I don't even know if Timber Toppers are still being made.
     
  8. bmac

    bmac Member

    Messages:
    2,156
    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2002
    Location:
    San Jose, CA
    The problem with autoploles and timber toppers is that they don't work great in all rooms. They work fine in rooms with low ceilings, but for instance, you may decide to set up in your garage or a clients home. You would be out of luck with autopoles. The studio I use at work has almost 18' ceilings!

    Brian
     
  9. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

    Messages:
    750
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Just north o
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    My house has some pretty high ceilings. Plus the ceiling slopes. So I'll stick with the two stands and a crossbar.

    Now here is a question -

    It looks like I will be going for the 9' wide system. How portable are these things and are there any "idea" ways to set them up?
     
  10. bmac

    bmac Member

    Messages:
    2,156
    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2002
    Location:
    San Jose, CA
    are you still talking about seamless paper? the crossbars are adjustable from about 3' - 15' so no worries there.

    Brian
     
  11. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

    Messages:
    750
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Just north o
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Ideally seamless paper, fabric, etc. I'd like to have some options. Plus portability. Even for outdoor shoots.

    Is this an even reasonable expectation?
     
  12. bmac

    bmac Member

    Messages:
    2,156
    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2002
    Location:
    San Jose, CA
    Sure it will work. I drive around in a cherokee with all my lights, stands a roll of seamless (usually white) and a 9' Denny Canvas background all the time. It is a total pain to set up in clients homes, but it is the best I can do for side jobs. I have carried this in a dodge neon as well, but the seamless was sticking about 2' out of the window [​IMG]
     
  13. William Levitt

    William Levitt Member

    Messages:
    214
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Nuernberg, G
    You're right Brian as far as Autopoles are concerned, you are limited by the ceiling height. But I have 12' ceilings and can use Autopoles at my place. And I don't know the maximum height of available 2X4 lumber, but if there was such a thing as an 18 footer, then timber toppers would work even in your studio.

    The problems I've found with using stands are these: 1) when the stand is up high enough to create a background high enough to shoot someone standing, then they are usually somewhot tipsey, and 2) there always seems to be just one exact postion for the legs where they neither sit on top of the background (where they inevitably end up on the edge of the frame) or end up denting the curve of the seamless.

    There are also brackets that can be mounted to the wall that accomodate crossbars, that's even something you could make on your own without spending a ton of money on "real" photographic paraphanalia. And when your're not using the brackets for a background, you could always hang a nice fern....a liitle green always looks good in the studio er...um...living room. ;-)
     
  14. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

    Messages:
    4,518
    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2002
    Location:
    Ipswich, Mas
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    What have I got ? ... checking, it is the "Portable Background Stand Set" from the Morris Co. Chicago, Ill. 60607.
    Essentially two stands (maximum height 9' - 10' - ? or so) and a telescoping cross member that will accept both 9" and 12' rolls of seamless paper. All fit in a "bag". This was not an expensive proposition - but it has served well for the last ten years. Just remember that the stands are not pneumatically "buffererd", so use caution in raising and lowering them.

    I would *definitely* start with 12' seamless - granted, it is not as portable, but it is awfully easy to run out of background - especially when photographing groups or "full length" or "model in motion" studies. I have both, and use the 12' - out of necessity - 95% of the time.

    Incidentally, I have a Ford Taurus, and, with the right-hand side of the back seat folded, the 12' seamless will FIT - over the front seat.
     
  15. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

    Messages:
    750
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Just north o
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Actually I went with a 9' Morris. The 9' length is actually better for my needs when I look at it. It will let me do 3-5 people and reclining shots, but won't take up TOO much room. Nine feet is pretty much the max I can reasonably store too. I've actually got my girlfriend working on some pane fabric to make some cheap (like under $20.00!) fabric backdrops, and 9' seems to be best there (or shorter depending).
     
  16. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,985
    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2002
    Location:
    Wine country, N. Cal.
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Bogen Autopole system is a great system for your home studio. They are available with extensions to handle cathedral ceilings. You can make a wedge out of small piece of 2x4 to handle sloped ceilings. They can also be bought with stands to make them more steady. You can add sections of three background holders. (black, white, gray). I also attach muslin to the top holders when using a painted background. All available at Calumet. (www.calumet.com)

    For portability the kit mentioned by someone in a previous post with the telescoping pole and two stands that sell for around $100. are great for location shooting.

    I recently got a flyer from Knowledge Backgrounds, selling muslin rejects and seconds and some were very inexpensive. 10x20 for $65.00. This is an economical way to start. (www.handpaintedbackgrounds.com)

    Michael McBlane
     
  17. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

    Messages:
    750
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Just north o
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Right now my big problem is dealing with backgrounds. I bought a 9' roll of paper and am finding it hard to store the damn thing! It is HUGE. VEry awkward.

    Now the fabric backgrounds I have been working on are much more portable. Problem is, I want a very BLACK background. The paper will do that just fine, fabric though tends to be a bit harder to deal with as it tends to be more reflective. Maybe I just haven't found the right fabric yet, but getting a very flat fabric background is proving tough. The pane velvet looks GREAT. I love that stuff, but when you don't want highlights it is not the stuff you want.

    Any suggestions on a good fabric that will work well for being black-black? Or conversely white-white (same problem, but in reverse....)?
     
  18. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    17,943
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Honolulu, Ha
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    The blackest thing is lens flocking, which you can get from scientificsonline.com in small sheets for tabletop subjects.

    If this is for people, I just use superwhite seamless and black seamless, and to get the superwhite really bright, I just put more light on it, and to keep the black black, be sure to keep the subject far enough away from the lights and to control the light with barn doors, flags, etc. to prevent overspill. Even grey seamless can produce a clean white, if you keep it two or three stops brighter than the subject (by reflective reading, depending on how contrasty the film is).
     
  19. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

    Messages:
    4,518
    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2002
    Location:
    Ipswich, Mas
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (Robert Kennedy @ Jan 27 2003, 08:32 AM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'>
    &nbsp; Problem is, I want a very BLACK background.&nbsp; The paper will do that just fine, fabric though tends to be a bit harder to deal with as it tends to be more reflective.&nbsp; Maybe I just haven't found the right fabric yet, but getting a very flat fabric background is proving tough.&nbsp; The pane velvet looks GREAT.&nbsp; I love that stuff, but when you don't want highlights it is not the stuff you want.

    Any suggestions on a good fabric that will work well for being black-black?&nbsp; Or conversely white-white (same problem, but in reverse....)?</td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    I've been using black felt. I have a piece 7' (?) wide ... and it is about as non-reflective as is possible. Cleans up fairlly well with a vacuum cleaner.
    Should be easily obtainable at your nearby fabric store.

    Hmm... white. I've been using a roll of Savage "Super White" - even for color, although Savage says not to. I've been thinking of Rip-Stop nylon.

    It is relatively easy to be resourceful when one is inherently frugal!
     
  20. docholliday

    docholliday Member

    Messages:
    116
    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2003
    Location:
    Amongst the
    BTW, in my HOME studio, I have about 5 door hinges on the ceiling. The free end of the hinge has a zip-strip looped through the screw holes. This allows me to add come clamps and clip my muslins to the ceiling. For roll paper, I shove a dowel rod through the loops and attach the clamps at the end of the dowel rod to keep the rod from sliding out of the zip-strips.

    For my lighting, I keep my stands for location shoots, I use angle iron pieces (the nice white painted ones about 1.5 feet long x 9" long. I screw it to the wall, just as if I was going to put a shelf on it, then on the free end, I attach a 1/4-20 nipple with a hex screw (or the kind for stroboframe brackets) and drop my Norman heads on it (with huge Chimera & Photoflex softboxes on it). Holds for great lighting angles, no stands to take up space, and no lights to be tripped over.

    I always get asked "why are there hinges on the ceiling" by friends when they come over. Of course, when I get shooting, they understand.