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Shadows show up on backdrops because your subject is blocking light from getting to the backdrop. Now getting rid of those shadows amounts to three things.
- Controlling where your subject is
- Controlling where your light is
- And potentially adding more light to the scene.
So we‘re going to start with controlling where your subject is. Here‘s a pretty classic setup, the camera is in front of the subject, in this case I‘m standing pretty close to the backdrop, and then the light is off at camera right.
And when you take a photograph with this setup, we get this shadow on the camera left side of the photograph, because I as the subject am in between the light and the backdrop.
But if you move your subject away from the backdrop, give them 4 or 5 or 6 feet in between the backdrop and the subject, and then you take that same photograph, you‘re going to get a very different result.
You can see that there is very little shadow. That alone will eliminate a bunch of the shadows that you‘re dealing with, but not all of the shadows, and if it doesn‘t eliminate the shadows, then the next thing you move to is positioning your light in a different spot.
If we go back to that classic lighting setup, when we take this photograph, we get those shadows on the backdrop, and here you can see there‘s this shadow on the camera left side of the photograph again, because I am in between the light and the backdrop.
But if you move the position of your light, you‘re going to move where the shadow is going to fall.
In this case I‘ve now positioned the light to the camera right side more dramatically, and what that means now is that instead of the shadow being cast on the backdrop, because the light is coming from an angle going towards the backdrop, the shadow is now going to be cast more towards the floor and the wall way over here at camera left, which is completely out of frame.
So now when we take a photograph, we get something that looks like this. And as you can see that shadow is basically gone. There‘s still a tiny bit of darkness over on the camera left side of the photograph, but there‘s no discernible shadow being cast by me as the subject because we changed where the light is, and we changed where the shadow is going to fall.
Now you might be saying to yourself, “Well, that‘s great, but now the entire left side of the subject is in darkness, and I don‘t want that, I want some light in there.”
There‘s an easy solution for that. Just bring in your V flat, and with your V flat over here just out of frame at camera left, you‘re going to take some of this light and bounce it back on to your subject, lighting that side of your subject up and even throwing some of that light onto your backdrop, which will make that even brighter and help eliminate the bit of shadow that does show up there.
And when you do that, you get a photo that looks like this, with beautiful clean light on both sides, and zero shadows that we need to worry about.
So moving your subject away from the thing that the shadow is falling on is one technique. Moving your light to change where the shadow falls is another technique to eliminate shadows. The third technique is to bring light in to the area where the shadow is being cast. And it looks something like this.
This light is pointing at the area on the backdrop where that shadow was falling. So when we turn this light on, and then we take a photograph we get something that looks like this, a beautiful, clean portrait with a beautiful clean background with no shadow because we took light and added it to fill that shadow!
So there you have it. That is how you prevent shadows on your backdrop. If you have any questions about this, let me know in the comments.
I used to be scared of my flash, and I understand how intimidating flash photography can be, but a flash is just a tool. Once you understand how that tool works you’ll be using your flash to create photos that used to seem impossible.
If you want to master your flash and take those amazing photos, check out my Understanding Flash Photography Video Course.