A Photo Studio In A Tube: Versatile, Colorful Backdrops

Over the years I’ve photographed hundreds if not thousands of models and subjects on muslin, canvas, and other background materials, and in many unique settings. I’ve had the privilege to shoot many magazine covers, dozens of catalogs, and ads for magazines.


Model Alexa Hammill demonstrating the background just out of the tube.

When Backdrop Outlet (www.backdropoutlet.com) called me about their new backgrounds in a tube, I was excited to try out this unique new material. The new backgrounds are called Candy Sticks and are a strong vinyl with a removable backing that will allow you to either stick the background directly to the wall or mount onto another material for durability and to keep the background flat, for ease of use.

Model Anastasia Cadjambassis on three different backgrounds.

I prefer to just hang the background over a background stand or tape to a wall. The plastic material of the background hangs very flat and only requires taping on the top end. This makes for an easy set up and break down. All the photos illustrated are lit with three lights. But, keep in mind, you could do this with less lighting. You could use a very large umbrella or softbox and shoot on the new Candy Sticks backgrounds with just one light.

Some of the backgrounds have a reflective surface, so it might be necessary to set your main and fill lights at a 45˚ angle to prevent reflections from showing up in your images. Many are matte and no change in lighting direction is required.

Model Courtney Enea modeling on the Graffiti Background with the three-light setup; hairlight is not visible as it is just out of range of the camera position.

The key to my lighting is using a main light to the left of the camera set for about f/8 and a fill light set one f/stop lower at f/5.6. The hairlight is set by using a strip softbox measuring 9x36”; the strip light is modified with louvers to prevent the strip hairlight from lighting the background or the face, which keeps it very efficient and the light very directional. The hairlight is mounted on a boom arm so I can put the light directly over the model’s head. Depending on the model’s hair color, I usually set the hairlight one to two stops brighter than the main light. I use SoCal Lights, electronic flash monolights, and all the controls for flash power and intensity of the modeling lamp are on the back of the light.

My main light is a SoCal SC400 with a 32x48” softbox that comes with louvers. (The SC400 costs about $325 and the softbox is $139.) The fill light and hairlight are the SC200 (about $249) and I suggest using a white umbrella or softbox. The device you put on the fill light is not that important. But larger is usually better on the umbrella or softbox as a fill light. The hairlight is a 9x36” strip light with louvers on the softbox; the louvers keep stray light from lighting the background or the subject’s face. (You can get more information on the SoCal Lights on their website, www.socallights.com.)

Model Gretchen Fink modeling on the License Plate Background with one of my assistants (Drew) helping off to the side. Note the hairlight over Gretchen’s head and shoulders.

Backdrop Outlet offers their Candy Sticks backgrounds in hundreds of different colors, patterns, and styles. I can guarantee you will be a little overwhelmed by the hundreds of different styles and types. Backgrounds can be used for floors as well. The only other thing you might like to try is a baseboard to complete the room-like effect you have magically set up. You can purchase a 5- or 6-foot molding and, when painted or stained, it makes the two backgrounds into a room setting. The entire setup with the background, floor, and molding takes only a few minutes to set up. My three-light setup works on all the styles and you can change the entire background or floor in just a couple of minutes.

The backgrounds measure 5 feet in width and 7 feet in length so they will work on one-, two-, or three-person portraits. Larger groups should be done on wider and longer backgrounds, like the muslin or canvas backgrounds that are 10 feet in width.

Model Lidia Domagalska in various poses on two different sets.

The new Candy Sticks backgrounds give me an amazing versatility and speed to change styles, colors, patterns, and textures in minutes. They are also great for a photographer who shoots seniors, as Candy Sticks will give the photographer a multitude of backgrounds in a short shooting session. I personally like that you can go from a room setting to an outdoor setting all in a couple of minutes.

I would suggest purchasing a few very different Candy Sticks backgrounds and a few others for use as a floor. Then with a three-light setup you will be producing some of the most professional-looking photography you have ever created.

Author Bio
Art Ketchum, creating images for ads, catalogs, and clients since 1978, has authored four books on photography, including Portfolio and Painting the Body Beautiful which are both available on Amazon.com and his website, www.artketchum.com.

Ketchum has given lectures, workshops, and seminars all over North America on lighting and posing for over 30 years. He has also developed his unique lighting style in shooting dance photography for many different clients over the past 30 years.

You can contact Ketchum on his website, www.artketchum.com, or by calling him at (773) 551-8751 for information on his lighting workshops and books.