DIY White Seamless Background Howto Part 1 of 5

This is the first part in a little series, which I expect to run to 5 parts, about my experience with doing a “white seamless background” look, with mostly DIY parts; and weaving in the use of tethering software.

  • Part one will discuss why I’m writing this, why you should read it, and why you might want to do it anyway.
  • Part two will be how I set up the physical environment with totally inadequate space and inappropriate materials; a too small room, off-white crumpled fabric, not quite white wooden boards and at least one bamboo lightstand.
  • Part three will be how I set up my lights and determine the correct power level for the flashes using a combination of a grey card, spot metering, tethering, Adobe Camera Raw, some logic and a healthy dose of guesswork and trial and error.
  • Part four will be actually shooting in this environment, mainly using tethering in order to do self portraits and also to check results as I go.
  • Part five will then be post processing, particularly how I compensate for limitations in my studio, my equipment and my skills!

It may take me a while to get to all these parts, but hey, a guy has to have goals in life, right? ūüôā

So first, why I’m writing this, why you should read it, and why you might want to do it anyway

My main reason for myself is that I was pleasantly surprised with the results I managed to obtain when I did this for myself. I had read various tutorials and guides and knew that I was missing some essential ingredients to do this “properly”, most importantly the sufficiently large space and the seamless paper.

As my stubborn insistence on trying anyway has lead to some usable results I wanted to capture what I’d done in writing, and by writing about it and therefore forcing myself to go through the whole process again methodically, perhaps to improve what I have done.

Why then should you read what I am writing here given that I’m clearly an absolute-beginner who has done this about 3 times and probably doesn’t know what he is doing. Well firstly I suppose you could be an even less experienced person who has done it zero times. But in that case shouldn’t you be reading advice from someone who has done it a thousand times? Of course you should read that, but I believe that as a beginner who has only just had his “ah ha” moment I’m closer to it and perhaps can describe things in way that will¬†interest¬†another beginner.

Of course another reason you might want to read this is so you can laugh heartily at my many mistakes and downright errors! If so, please feel free to keep your comments to yourself. ūüôā

More charitably (on my or your part) perhaps you’d want to give me some pointers to improve what I’ve done? Criticism, constructive or otherwise, does not sit easily with me I will admit, but advice is always welcome.

Lastly, why would anybody want to shoot on a white seamless background – and a DIY one at that. ¬†For me it was initally just “because”, it seemed an interesting thing to do and a bit of a challenge. ¬†Combined with that is seeing those posters of models in clothing stores (where I live it is Uright and Bossini) blown up to about twice life size that always look so cool.

Once I had done it though I realized it presents a few additional advantages:

  • You don’t have to worry about composing the background, there is no background. For me that was a big one as I’m still struggling a lot with backgrounds; I have not yet trained my eye properly to see everything in the frame through the viewfinder. ¬†And so find most of my shots tend to have unwanted things behind or intersecting with the object I am trying to capture. ¬†While I will continue to work to train my eye meanwhile I’d like some nice shots of my wife and kids which are not ruined by junk in the background.
  • Compositing suddenly becomes a lot easier. ¬†You want to duplicate yourself 3 times in the same shot? ¬†Now you don’t have to worry about difficult cutting out and not matching edges. ¬†Every edge is white, it becomes easy.
  • Your background suddenly becomes¬†expendable; you want it to appear that you are on a larger set? ¬†Just expand the canvas.
  • And of course there is room for type if you’re doing a Christmas card!

As for why DIY — well because it is cheap and because I can get it here and now with materials at hand. ¬†Where I live getting a 9 foot roll of paper delivered is not really and option.

So there you go. ¬†Why I’m writing this, why you might want to read it, and why do white background shots anyway. ¬†That’s all I have for part one and now that I’ve started I’ll have to finish this one day!

Demo Video for DIYPhotobits.com Camera Control 2.1

I thought it was well past time that I did some more explanation of how to use the new features in DIYPhotobits.com Camera Control 2.1.

Turns out my video skills need a bit of work though as I ended up putting together a 10 minute video, the YouTube limit, and only covered half the features. Still, I hope this is helpful both to see what sort of thing the script is useful for — in this case I’m covering self-portrait balancing flash vs ambient ala Strobist.

 

(Click through and view the high quality version if you want to read the text!)

Equipment used:

  • 1 x SB-600 at camera left set at manual 1/4 power with a folding paper grid spot ¬†on a bamboo light stand
  • 1 x SB-800 at camera right, also manual 1/4 power
  • Nikon D300 with a 18-55mm¬†
  • Pop-up flash on the D300 is the trigger for the flashes
  • Long USB cable, plus a USB extender cable
  • Thinkpad X31

I cover the use of the remote shutter release, combined with shutter, aperture and ISO controls to take and download images as well as using Bridge to view them.

What I ran out of time to do before the YouTube 10 minute limit was tethered shooting from the camera, and external viewer push. ¬†Perhaps I’ll try to do another short video covering those, but I do really want to work on the next features!

While doing this demo I also noted some odd slowness of the script in some situations, particularly M vs P mode that I’m unable to explain at the moment, so will spend some time to investigate that and hopefully speed the whole thing up.

Windows Remote Shutter Release HOWTO

I explained before how my remote shutter release script was actually redundant, because Windows has a built in feature that does this. Of course I did then go forward and make the self-portrait script which does do something more useful, remote shutter release combined with immediate download and viewing, but the original idea of a simple remote shutter is still useful.

So I thought a better explanation of how that Windows feature works might help, and it’s good practice for me making videos as well:

Via YouTube:

Via Vimeo:

Having found the RAW/JPG limitation though I’ll be taking a look to see if I can script my way around that. ¬†Stay tuned!

Tethered Shooting Script — a HOWTO Video

Since I first posted my free script that allows Nikon DSLRs to be shot tethered I’ve been very pleased with the response, it seems to have been helpful to many people.¬† However I’ve hardly been very good at documenting how to use it.¬† So in an attempt to fix that I’ve made this little video which shows how to use it.

Or view high quality YouTube version

This is my first video attempt so it is pretty basic — but it took me all afternoon to put together, so please excuse the rough edges.¬† Hopefully I’ll work out how to do this better and perhaps make some videos explaining my hardware DIY projects which would also benefit from this type of explanation.

If you’re not sure about tethered shooting then ProPhotoLife has just released a great video

, as usual, explaining all about it Рusing Canon as an example.  I particularly like his safety tips regarding long USB cables.