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Photography Backdrops: A Partial Review & Lots Of Ironing!

Stuart Fawcett says he's invested (wasted) far too much time and money on backdrops over the years and as a result, his quest to find the perfect one still continues. To help photographers try and not suffer the same problematic journey, Stuart has put together a great article on the trials and tribulations of trying to find the perfect photography background which he's shared with ePHOTOzine.

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Backdrop

Given that lockdown has seriously reduced the amount of (going to work) street and outdoor photography I got to enjoy this last year, I've found myself spending much more time photographing things indoors. As a result, I needed a smallish background for table-top photography (maybe even portrait photography as lockdown eases...) which sounds quite a simple task but in reality, it's a lot more complicated than you might first think.

 

Bed Sheets & Muslin

I've tried repurposing the giant sheets of muslin/cotton that I'd previously used years back for full-length people backdrops but they were just too unwieldy, did not look good close up and kept creasing and creasing. Bed sheets also proved to have similar issues so I didn't find these useful either! There are those smooth, seamless paper rolls for studio work but mine are buried in the loft and at 3M wide, they're just too unwieldy. 

 

Paper Backgrounds

I did look for smaller paper rolls as their bright colours are great, but the minimum roll length of 11M does not make them a cheap option even at the narrower 4 feet widths so off to the infinite stores of Amazon and eBay I went to find that perfect backdrop; there are some lovely printed backdrops out there that possibly look better than my actual final photographs but two questions presented themselves: size and material.

 

Check Your Sizes 

Size is important as, obviously, you need something that's the right size to fill your frame - 3x4 feet and 5x7 feet seem to be popular sizes. You also need to think about storage as unless you can keep your set-up, well, set-up all of the time, you're going to need a space to keep your backgrounds in. Remember you need to keep them crease-free and my preferred solution is popping a small tube inside a much larger tube with all the creasable backdrops rolled up inside all around each other. I've ended up with a 5-inch diameter, 6-foot long aluminium tube to store my 5x7 backdrop collection in.

 

More from the low key trials, now with texture's to add context/interest.

My war with creases and love/hate relationship with the humble iron is what made me write this article...

 

Backgrounds, Backgrounds & More Backgrounds 

Actually, my war with creases and love/hate relationship with the humble iron is what made me write this in the first place as I've invested (wasted) far too much in backdrops over the years - I've more backdrops than photography bags, each purporting to be perfect for my purpose at that time!

Cheap vinyl backdrops and make do shower curtains that reflected any light source in whatever way they saw fit; they don't roll up very well, crease and crinkle and of course, just melt away in the face of a steaming iron. Then came cotton bedsheets and super-wide cotton fabrics which are pretty good when far away and out of focus but only the really dark colours seemed to hide the creases and they got more creased and faded with age... now they're just more useful for killing reflected light.

Proper 3M wide seamless paper came next which isn't too reflective and it's available in a wide range of colours but they're rather heavy and unwieldy so not the easiest to use. However, they are great when you want clean, clear backgrounds but unfortunately, they don't tend to be available in smaller, more affordable sizes - the smallest is 1.35M x 11M which is very long for tabletop photography. If someone could come up with a party pack of 5 colours each measuring 1.35x2M then this may be more suitable for our smaller projects and storage needs...

 

The key maker in sackcloth looks for escape

 

Shopping For A New Background

So back to Amazon and eBay... a type of printed vinyl cotton seemed to be next for me - lovely background scenes, patterns and colours to compliment my subjects and often for under £20. They're also quite non-reflective and roll up smooth to store then reuse without creases. 

The only slight issue was that, on delivery, the folded product needed time and care to remove the fold crinkles from it being in the storage and shipping pipeline for, perhaps, a few months. Unfolding and rolling would almost do the job with a minimal cool steam iron through a tea towel. Sometimes the colours are a little muted, but this is a strong contender for a clean, easy to use backdrop that then rolls up nicely and doesn't sag on hanging.

Still searching for the perfect backdrop, a few weeks ago, I saw what looked to be ideal - bright colours and what was said to be a stiffish, non-woven fabric with some vendors saying it's man-made or polyester; the micro-texture looks excellent, and it does not seem to reflect too much light - almost a perfect material and, indeed, when it duly arrived, wow! Strong, bright colours and a lovely professional crisp finish. However, it did arrive with big folds/creases in it but this didn't put me off as I've dealt with this before - roll it up tight for a few days, pop it in a warm cupboard and then unroll to reveal a crease-free background. But, this time, the creases were still there. 

Not to be deterred, I reached for the cool steam iron but this didn't work either and as soon as I increased the iron's temperature, the inevitable melt occurred turning the surface shiny (and the creases still remained). 

It turns out that this manmade plastic fabric stretches and deforms when folded for shipping and does not reshape back as folding permanently damages. Luckily, my vendor gave a full refund once I'd explained the situation. So, potentially, it's a great product but only if you can buy it directly on the roll and it's this product that made me want to write all of this down - as a warning to other photographers and as an opportunity for those suppliers that might, in future, supply this on rolls not folded.

 

A picture taken with the new microfibre backdrop.

A picture taken with the new microfibre backdrop.

 

The Search Continued...

I hate losing a good idea and had a refund to spend so looked again and found what I consider to be a new brand and technology for backdrops - the material is called 'luxurious Microfiber' and although more expensive, responds very well to the iron to get rid of shipping creases; It's a soft thick fabric more like a fleece which seems inherently to resist creases when loosely folded. In summary, it's bright, does not reflect light spots and hangs pretty well, though with a slight tendency to droop if not held taught. Also, so far, it looks like storage and quick use is going to be easy whether the backdrop is lightly folded or rolled.

So Microfiber is my new favourite material for backdrops currently. However, I'm still looking forward to possible smaller party packs of multi-coloured seamless paper, and also those bright colours of the new manmade plastic backdrop if anyone starts to sell it on short rolls...

I'd be keen to hear your experiences with backdrops either in the comments below or over in the forums

Article by Stuart Fawcett - JackAllTog

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Comments


pablophotographer 9 1.8k 398
25 Jan 2021 5:42PM
Hi.
i had watched a Sue Bryce tutorial, she is using hard surface backgrounds.
I thought I had booked marked the page of the product she was using but... I did nit find it in my bookmark list.
pablophotographer
ChrisV Plus
14 2.3k 26 United Kingdom
27 Jan 2021 9:19AM
That's a useful article, Stuart - I'm sure it's a very common problem for home studio photographers. I bought a kit with three non-woven backdrops and it does look like I won't get any use out of any of them - pretty much impossible to get rid of the creases and ironing is either not effective, or as you've observed, melts or shines the material [and still doesn't erase the creases]!

Ordinary linen just won't lie flat for long and the white sheets dirty in no time. I'll look out for the microfibre in your recommendation - I'm trying to find a decent full-figure green-screen.
27 Jan 2021 1:30PM
Hi Stuart,
Having tried every conceivable background at home over the years, and rejecting most, I've ending up with 3 that I use regularly, both at home and at my Camera Club.

First and cheapest is the vinyl/cotton backdrops that come folded from China via Ali Express or E Bay. Once ironed I roll them on 40mm waste pipe, fixing the end on with Duct tape.3m pipe from Wicks 2.70. Stays flat and nice and light.

Second is the heavy duty double sided vinyl. Supplied on a 50mm aluminum tube it is easy to clean and lasts years. Downside the 2M size I use is 80 to 100 and heavy but my black and white roll has lasted 5 years+.

Third, and my favorite is the Lastolite Ezycare backdrop. These are 3M x3.5M and are very stretchy. Just stretch them over your backdrop stand and fix with the clamps supplied, any creases vanish. Easy to store in the bag supplied, no care needed! I have bought several colours as have a few people from my Camera Club. Manfrotto have discounted them on the web site occasionally For 45 + pp.

Best of all use nature, the great outdoors has lots of cool designs and no creases!
DJT

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