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Shoot: Change Background Color With Light

Lesson 15 from: Environmental Portrait Photography

Dan Brouillette

Shoot: Change Background Color With Light

Lesson 15 from: Environmental Portrait Photography

Dan Brouillette

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Lesson Info

15. Shoot: Change Background Color With Light

Using the same white background, learn how to manipulate the color of the background with light. Remove the lights to create a gray background. Work with several different studio lighting set-ups to manipulate the background color.


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Introduction to The Environmental Portrait


Environmental Portrait Purpose


Personal Work


Find Your Process




Purpose For Action Editorial


Prepare for Shoot


Lesson Info

Shoot: Change Background Color With Light

Now, we're gonna leave the white background, and we're gonna shoot on gray. Meaning we're not gonna light it. So, I'm just gonna get rid of these lights. We'll move them out, and I'm actually gonna move the V-flat so we have a little more room to work with. Place this guy back here so it's outta the way. So, now you can also kind of see how this is rounding out a whole shoot. We did some dribbling shots, we did some environmental portraits, we have our magazine cover, basic white shot. We have a little more stark contrasty personality with some subtle, you know, different angles, different lenses, I actually like how that 7,200 worked out quite a bit. I'm gonna set this guy back here, turn him off. I'm gonna turn this light off. And we're just gonna start with this guy. So, what I wanna do is move the V-flats a little bit. We're gonna keep this harsh light just to, just as a starting point, and I actually wanna, is this okay with this here? I don't know if that camera can still see Ken...

na or if it's even trying to. I just wanna get these outta the way. Alright, I think we're good there. So what I wanna show you guys is how we can move the light and change the color of the background, without having to actually change the background. So I'm gonna, again, move this back a little bit. And the first, actually we're gonna go the reverse. So the first thing I'm gonna do is show you how we can brighten the background just through our fill light. So, we're gonna start off with, it's gonna be kind of a medium gray backdrop. So what I wanna do is we're gonna leave this light about where it is, you can come back to about here. And we're gonna have the fill on, but we're gonna turn it down. So we're still gonna expose for 5.6. And our background doesn't matter anymore, 'cause we don't have lights on it, so I don't even care about those lights whatsoever. This should still all read the same, we didn't change any settings at all. But we'll make sure 'cause who knows what I did in the meantime. 5.6, so we're good. So you'll see the difference in not lighting the backdrop. I'm gonna switch back to the 24 to just out of ease of use. And Brock, I'm gonna have you turn slightly this way with your body, but head aimed towards the TV again. Even more this way, yeah. So, I'm not so worried about posing or any of that yet, we're going through some more technical stuff, because I wanna see what color this backdrop's gonna be. So it's mildly gray, we know it's exposed properly. Looks a little dark, actually it's fine. And what we can do next, let me turn it up just a tiny bit. What we can do next is I'll show you, by moving the fill light closer, the background's actually gonna go darker. So we're gonna, I'm not gonna put it on a, don't tell anybody, no sandbag this time. We're gonna move this quite a bit closer, but because I did that, to maintain f5.6, we actually have to turn it down, so we're gonna have to meter. So we want 5.6, we're at 5.0, I'ma go up uh, just a little bit here. We're at 5.6, so we're good there. Head that way, and this background should get a little bit darker. And now the main thing I wanna show you is how by moving this backwards a lot, it's the same thing that happened when we were lighting from head to ball. This ratio of the distance between your light to him versus Brock to the background is now different. So this light needs to go way up power to make up for it, but the fall-off is gonna happen a lot more gradual, so more light's gonna hit the background. So the whole lesson here is that if you don't have four lights to make a hot light background, you can still get a white background if you know how to place the lights. You can also place the subject closer to the white. The thing you're gonna run into then, is it's gonna cast a shadow, so you gotta be careful of that. So we still want 5.6. We have 6.3, we need to go down just a little bit. There we go, we should be good. And this background should get a little lighter. We could massage it even more and make it white, but I think you guys get the general idea. There, so you can see it's definitely a little more white. It's not gray by any means, and this is one of those instances where you could definitely increase it in post. It wouldn't be that hard, it's a nice clean background. But yeah, comparing this to this, it's subtly brighter. And the more you can move and the more space you can have the brighter it can get. So, with that said, what we're gonna do now is we want this background to be gray. We're done with the white, we've done enough of that. So we need to get you away from the background about one big step, maybe, yeah, that should be good. There's two ways to do this. Get him away from the background or control where our lights are hitting by moving him away from the background and keeping these light distances the same. The background will just naturally go darker. And the other thing we're gonna do is turn down this fill, and move it a little closer. So we want 5.6, we got 6.3, which means most of it's probably coming from that side, so we'll turn down. We got 5.6, so we're good to go. Alright so, the background's gonna be a lot more dramatic, the lighting overall's gonna be the same. We're gonna mess with this for a second, then we're gonna move on. So lookin' over your shoulder even harder, 'cause I wanna get something that's a little more dramatic. What I actually wanna do is get in another harsh accent light. So similar to what we did before, I'm gonna bring one of these reflectors back, and we're gonna shoot something that has that same feel but in studio. So we're gonna put this far enough away that it's not gonna be hitting his nose. So one of the thing I like with my accent lights is when they don't skim across the face and get the tip of the nose, 'cause that does not look good. So we need to get it far enough behind him that it's not going to hit his nose, but we also only have so much space to work with, and I really don't want this light to hit the background, so we could a flat, we could the V-flat on the other side. It really won't matter so much for this. And because we have this reflector so close to him, it's gonna be pretty bright. So you're definitely gonna be able to see that. Alright, so this is gonna kinda separate Brock from the background a little bit, and we should be good to go, to start shooting again. Just get a little different look before we go to the all-black setup. There we go, so you can see what that kicker's doing. It's adding the light on his neck down here, on the side of his cheek, so it's just, again, the more of that you want the higher you turn it up. The more subtle you want it, like if you were doing business portraits at a doctor's office you might want a hair light or a kicker, but you're gonna wanna turn it way down, cause they're not gonna be wearing their medical outfit at the football stadium. That's kind of the look you're going for here, or basketball in this case, basketball arena. Alright, I'm gonna do a couple that are a little more full-length, so. We don't have a full sweep, but Brock, I'm gonna have you look right here. So this is gonna completely change up the frame. And even if you didn't care, that's kind of a smooth transition from the white to the concrete. Lookin' off that way again, even more. And this would be an instance too where, you're gonna see at the top of the paper roll here, but if you wanted to Photoshop that, I'll show you later how to grab and stretch that and it's really not hard at all. I'll even do it on purpose to leave more negative space. One more just like that, eyes to camera, perfect. So we'll use that as an example later when we're doing the poster work of how to stretch the background to get it where you want. But I'm pretty happy with that as far as a dramatically lit shot. Now the third and final light setup I wanna do on this, is I actually wanna make this background go really dark. So, we could just throw a V-flat behind him, but that's easy. If you don't have that option, we're gonna move him quite a ways from the backdrop and we're actually gonna kill all ambient light, so we're gonna move our f-stop up to f to knock off another stop of this window light. And the other thing we're gonna do is control our main light. So we're gonna go back to using a gridded beauty dish. So we'll switch that out for our dish. And we'll throw the grid back on there. Okay, so now that that's gridded, there's almost no light that's gonna hit the background once we get it positioned properly. And we're gonna move everything far away from this backdrop, 'cause we want it to go dark. Alright, and going from a magnum to a beauty dish with a grid, it's probably about a two to two and a half stop difference, so I just turn this up two and a half stops already, so I won't have to do quite as much finagling with it later. And I want this to be pretty dramatic, and again I want the background to go dark. Also, you are wearing a tank top underneath that, so let's get rid of the jacket. You can just set it wherever, doesn't matter, it's not gonna be in the shot. And now we're gonna be able to see that rim light even more, because he has bare shoulders, so we're gonna be able to see that look. He's got a shooting sleeve on, so we're gonna be able to see a little bit of tattoo, the whole works. So it's just gonna be a different look. I'm gonna angle this light downward more. I'm gonna have you take one more big step forward, and I'm gonna raise this light up even more just for fall-off purposes. And we're gonna completely get rid of the fill. I am gonna move that kicker light, we do want it on but I'm gonna move it. We're gonna run outta space here soon is what's gonna happen. Alright, and this is our kicker. We're gonna just leave that as-is for right now, I'm gonna leave it on, we don't need to go through the whole setup again. And we're gonna meter, so what I said is we're gonna go up to f8 to kill all ambient light on that background, so I turn my camera up to f8. Now we're gonna meter until it says f8. We're at four or five, we need to go way up and I need to untangle my entire tether cable from a sandbag, a light stand and who knows what else. F8, so we're good, let me uh. The easiest way to do this is to start over. Alright, so we're good there, turn off my camera. Re-plug in. And we're golden, so, I'm gonna have you take another little tiny step back towards the background. Stand square to me, and I want you not even lookin' at me, kinda over your shoulder, down like this, yeah. A little bit more nose this way, I'm watchin' his eyes, there we go. A little bit more towards me, right there. And this background should go really really dark for us. And he should definitely have some kicker light coming on. So there we go, totally different look, same backdrop. We put a grid on there to control the spill. We still have the kicker light on. This light's totally off and I'm not gonna turn it on, 'cause if we turn it on it's just gonna brighten the background. I'm fine with that, well, we'll turn it on and see what it does, why not. I like experimenting if you can't tell. So this is gonna fill in the shadow on the ball and on his neck, between the highlights of the rim light and the highlights of the beauty dish. 'Kay, it didn't do much, let's turn down. We'll go up significantly, the background's also gonna get a little bit brighter, but not much. There we go, so that's just filling in a little bit of that shadow, actually don't mind, we'll go somewhere in between. And now we can start shooting again, all the technical stuff's done. So Brock, I'm gonna have you stand, again, turn around completely this way, keep going. And then you're gonna be lookin' over your shoulder at this part of the window, or even those electrical outlets down there. Keep turning your head, I'm just lookin' at eye contact with where I know these catch lights are gonna fall. That's good, right in there. And then I'm gonna have you hold the ball up over your shoulder on your right arm, so then we're gonna see highlights from that light. Hitting the ball, hitting his shoulder and his hand. And we're gonna shoot a horizontal. And now I'm gonna let the, actually take a tiny step this way, right there. I was gettin' off the, the further you get away from the background, the subtle movements are less subtle as far as going off the edge of the seamless. Turn your head even more towards me, so shoulders this way a little bit. Not quite so much, keep this arm cocked back, yep. And nose towards me, but eyes away, yep. Yeah that should be pretty sweet. There we go, one, two, three. One, two, three. There we go, I'm gonna have you turn your head even more towards me if you can, I dunno if you can, yeah there you go. And I'm not worried about the backdrop, we can fix that. I just don't want his hair to go over that seam, because then it's a pain. I'm gonna get in here close. Eyes to camera. I'm gonna have you turn completely this way. Yep, just like that. Now, ball just down, shoulders open, keep goin', and then head this way but eyes to camera. So nose even more this way, chin down. Yeah that's gonna be pretty fierce lookin'. Yeah, so that looks pretty sweet. And that's with the same color grading that we did on the last one. I might desaturate this a little bit. In fact, we might as well do it. 'Cause then this'll apply to every image going further. So what we'll do is we'll go into our white balance, oh sorry, exposure, we'll take down the saturation little bit. We're also gonna, on color balance we're gonna get rid of some of that orange riding to the mid tones. Darken the highlights a little bit. Darken the shadows, take the edge off those highlights. And the only other thing I'm gonna do, yeah, so now every shot will have that applied to it. So again, head this way just towards the light. Chin down a little bit. I'm gonna switch lenses, just 'cause the shot I'm framing up is not a 24 to 70 type shot. It's a zoomed in crop shot that I need to use a longer lens for. So yeah, we'll try this, oh yeah this'll work better. Eyes to here. So this'll just have a little bit different look. I'm gonna have you turn your body more this way again. Keep goin', right there. Yep, head position's better, chin down a little bit. One, two, three. And just so you can see with the ambient light, if I turn off the trigger and we shoot a shot without any lights, this doesn't matter. You can see how much the ambience affecting the shot. Basically none, it's doin' a little bit to the background, but you know, to compare that just with what the lights are doing, it's totally different shot. And we've kinda drowned out all the ambient by shooting it f8. If you want to do it even further, you could take your shutter speed up, we could still go up to 250 on, it depends, you could either shoot high-speed sync, or you can shoot up to a 250th of a second with a Nikon as far as your sync speed. I think Canon might be a 200th. But either way that'll make the background go even darker and kill more ambient light.

Ratings and Reviews

Julie V

I had the chance to sit in the audience for this class and absolutely loved it. Watching Dan create amazing images from start to finish in front of us was so inspiring. I've learned so much from this class. It actually gave me the confidence to start playing with lights in my studio. It was really useful to see how he sets his lights and how he can easily mix ambient light with artificial. I also love how he focuses on getting the image right in the camera to only do light edits after. I recommend this class to anyone wanting to learn more about lighting, shooting tethered and editing efficiently!

a Creativelive Student

I love this guy! I so appreciate his honesty while he is explaining his thought process, admitting that his “shoulda/coulda/woulda’s” - which I experience ALL the time. I am now going to dust off my light meter and start using it on location as I’m convinced that it works now that I’ve seen Dan’s class. I enjoyed the detailed way he sets up each light individually, checking to make sure it adds the amount and quality of light he wants. Definitely recommend this class - especially for those people who have experience using studio lights and want to see how they can be used to get specific results. Dan’s clear, simple explanations, his unabashed humility, and his sense of humor made this a truly enjoyable way to spend my time learning his methods.

a Creativelive Student

Dan is an excellent instructor! He's completely transparent with his thought processes, from technical to creative. He doesn't waste time horsing around or getting off topic, but is structured and sticks to his outline. Every minute watched is on topic, and is understandable. He's sincere and likable. The course is great for anyone interested in this genre!

Student Work