Anyone looking through my portfolio can see that I shoot a LOT of subjects on a white background. As a magazine publisher and sometime graphic designer I have learned the value of shooting a nice, clean, well lit image on a pure white background that is very easy to clip out. It has taken me several years to perfect the techniques needed for this type of shoot. Below I describe some of the lighting styles I use in my photographs on white.
Shooting on White Requires HUGE Studio Space
First off, doing this type of shoot requires a HUGE studio space – much larger than most local studios offer. Why? Because I need to light my subject totally separate from my background. Hence, I need to move my subject up to 10 feet or more from the background. I also need high 12′ ceilings so I can boom by lights overhead when necessary to get the kind of light I want. I also need a LOT of lights – I currently have high powered 12 strobes in my studio plus more in my travel bags.
Moving my subject away from my background allows me to light the background to pure white, to any shade of gray, and even to complete black if needed. Yes, I can turn a white background dark gray or even black if needed. And most importantly, the light from the background doesn’t contaminate the foreground subject or create ghosting, flare or bleed into the camera. This makes selecting the image in photoshop much, much easier.
Depending on the size of my subject, I may be anywhere from 20-50 feet away from my subject with my camera. This allows me to use a long lens for proper perspective (no more huge noses and foreheads) and still keep my background filled with white. Again, this requires a very large studio space to work in.
Light Subject Separate from Background
Now that my subject is isolated from my background, I can use all types of lighting setups for the subject without worrying about the background. I can shoot with hard gridded strobes, soft glowing softboxes, various types of umbrellas, you name it. In all I have about two dozen light modifiers I use regularly in my studio, in a variety of combinations, to create thousands of different lighting looks ranging from hard, edgy lighting, moody dark shadows, to soft glowing light to crisp, clean nicely exposed lighting – and everything in between.
The benefits to designers to this style of lighting is that you can easily choose the mood you want to portray in a photo, and be able to easily clip out the image with minimal work. You no longer have to spend hours clicking pixel by pixel to select images with white bleed from the background, or deal with underexposed white backgrounds that are not easily selected with a tool such as the magic wand in Photoshop. I can easily deliver images already clipped out with a path if you like, making your work even easier.
Examples of Various Lighting Styles on White Background
This shot for a paint company required lighting that complemented the bike AND the girl. I used large softboxes to get an overall even look to the bike, then very tightly gridded spots to create define the girl.
A nice soft look with smooth shadows, yet the shadows give form and shape to the subject. Notice the smooth, flowing transitions from light to shadow, and compare it to the quicker transitions in the photo above and some of the ones below.
This lighting of a little girl features very soft, smooth, even lighting. This is probably the easiest style to create – just throw up some big soft boxes and fire away.
This photograph is nearly a silhouette with just a hint of definition to the face. I wanted just a very slight touch of definition and rim lighting so that viewers could tell the outline of her face and shoulders. Notice the slight rim lighting on her shoulder, arms and neck with no bleed from the white background onto the subject. Very hard to do well.
This photo was done in limited space on location with only two lights. It gives good definition to his muscular body and strong face and laugh, yet still offers a clean, crisp pure white background.
This photo creates hard, edgy lighting with strong rim lights. This is a popular style, especially with athletes and men. It is rough, gritty, hard and very dramatic.
This photograph features hard-edged lighting on a feminine subject – not something you see all that often. Most women are not able to pull this look off so most of the times photographers shoot women with big softboxes for smooth shadows. This is one of my favorite images and I love the bold, dramatic lighting that highlights her strong cheekbones and facial features.