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Easy Black Background

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In this free photography tip I’m going to show you where to make an easy black background, in camera ­ without having a black backdrop. It’s a simple trick of exposure. Thanks Ian Rutter for asking and giving me the idea!

The easiest way to create a black background for a portrait (or any other type of photography) is to go and buy some black fabric. Velvet is fantastic because it soaks up light. However what do you do if you want a black background and don't have any?

First you have to begin thinking like a photographer and consider your options. In this scenario light is our best friend because like some best friends I could mention - it behaves in a weird way.

Common sense suggests that if you double the distance from a light source you'll have half the light. But it doesn't work that way. Light enjoys making my brain hurt by subscribing to the Inverse Square law of physics so the level of light is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between subject and source. Where's the paracetamol?

This means if you have a subject 4 meters from a light source the light landing upon it will be 1/16th of what it was at the light source. To 'square' a number you multiply it by itself 4x4=16 the inverse of which is 1/16.

So to make a black background for an image all you need to do is find somewhere where the light fall off will be enough that the camera can't cope with it, like a doorway, entrance to a dark alley etc and place the model in front of it.

BUT - look out for the qualities of the light as well as the quantity. If the qualities of the light landing on your model / subject are not suitable for it the background may be dark but the image won't be great. I really should have used a reflector in this demonstration to push a bit more light back into Abbie's face and make her eyes a bit less dark But hey ho - hopefully you get the point...

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