I have been looking through previous threads to read up about backgrounds. I want to start using backgrounds for some portraits and still life but thought rather than investing lots of money at this stage would just get some white muslin and make my own (as suggested by others in previous threads). At the material store I asked the sales lady where the muslin was (as I have never needed it before I didn't know what it looked like). I was really surprised to see how transparent it was. They had plain white and patterned. The white seemed more transparent than the patterned. The patterned also seemed a bit thicker in weight. I just wanted to find out if anyone had made their own background using muslin (or another material that works just as well) and if there is a particular thickness that has to be used. It just seems that if I used that particular one that anything behind it may be seen through the material.
I acquired an 11X20 seamless sheet of muslin on eBay for around $20 + shipping. Comes in about any color you could want. In a studio situation, you control the lighting so objects behind a backdrop should be less of a problem.
van Huyck Photo
"Progress is only a direction, and it's often the wrong direction"
As Doug mentioned, Kathy, once you light the front of the backdrop, the translucence of the fabric is no longer an issue. That's even more true if you choose to paint it.
Although I have a couple of painted muslin backgrounds, and a plain white one (purchased at a fabric store), I also use seamless paper backgrounds a lot. In particular, I like the "Thunder Gray" color, close to an 18%, as it takes color from gels nicely, as shown below:
[COLOR=SlateGray]"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus." -Mark Twain[/COLOR]
Rio Rancho, NM
If you're looking for black, I use a very cheap hunk of fake velvet. I'm not sure what it really is. It might be some sort of poly blanket material. But it works great and soaks the light right up. Just ask for fake black velvet.
Then there's always paper.
I found some nice abstract upholstery fabric on a remnants table at the fabric store. It works nicely as a backdrop, though I would hate to see it as a couch. Other than that, I use paper, or occasionally a bedsheet.
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A word of caution with the plain white muslin, don't hang it in front of a window, even with it being front illuminated, the window shining through it can create a visable hot spot. Wrinkles in the muslin fabric can be an asset, or on the other hand perhaps a liability.
A lot of folks have used painters drop cloths from hard ware stores with good success. They can be painted and seem to work well.
I personally like the Savage seamless paper grounds. The gray that rbarker mentions is everything he says it is. With lighting alone, you can go from gray to white, subtract the light and back away a bit and it will go to a great black.
I have purchased many remnants from the Belger Company for very little money that work very well for smaller items/products.
Muslin is widely used in theater for that very reason. By varying the direction of lighting, the director is able to change the set without moving physical pieces.
Originally Posted by Charles Webb
Muslin has long been used for theater flats for basically one reason, that is it is cheaper than sail cloth, canvas or Egyptian Cotten bed sheets. It has very little to do with a directors intention for a scene change illusion that will be created by the change of lighting. It is simply the material that that covers the flat that is designed to create the set illusion for the directors production, nothing more!
My opinion based on lot's of years experience! :-)
Long ago and far away I worked in a number of commercial studios. Thunder Gray was much more likely than any other seamless, including black or white, to be in use at any of those studios for the reasons already given.
Thanks everyone for your replies, they have been really informative, helpful and much appreciated.
Thanks Ralph and Lee for the information about Thunder Grey. Ralph, looking at your photo I would have said "oh he used a yellow background", I would never have thought that grey could end up being yellow. It's amazing what you can learn on APUG just asking someone and am very grateful that people are willing to help to that degree. It was great that you added your fantastic photograph as an example because it really helps me get my head around it. I always find no matter how much I read about something, actually seeing it in practice or with an image always help me understand it better.
Thanks Charles for the heads up on window back light with muslin. You have saved me at least one pitfall.
Thanks to all your great advice I am going to go back to the material store, get some muslim and maybe even some fake black velvet. I'll start off with some still life and practice with different light to see what I can achieve. A bit later down the track when I'm more confident with this I think I'll be looking into thunder grey.