In this <10 min read you will learn:
- How to unpack and handle your vinyl backdrop
- Simple ways you can use your backdrop in a home/studio environment
- Techniques for lighting your scene
- Care tips to keep your backdrop looking great for next time
We love vinyl backdrops! Perfectly portable, durable and easy to store, they can quickly transform a bland set-up into an evocative and impactful scene. In this post we are going to look at some basic essentials for getting started with vinyl backdrops and some simple tips to help you get the most from your shots.
The first step (and one we get asked about often!) is how to flatten out your rolled backdrop before shooting:
Unpacking & Handling
Vinyl backdrops are rolled into a cardboard tube for shipping. When you remove them they will have a light, temporary curve that can be easily flattened out by re-rolling in the opposite direction. Place back into the shipping tube for a few minutes and you're ready to go! If you do need to use your vinyl backdrop immediately, you can also tape it at the edges using masking or kraft tape. Vinyl backdrops that are left to rest on a level surface will eventually settle completely flat.
It is important to take care when handling your backdrop, as scrunching or folding can permanently crease or buckle the vinyl. You should also avoid contact with very hot or sharp items, as well as strongly pigmented substances. If your backdrop does come into contact with liquid, wipe with a soft damp cloth directly after use. Vinyl is water-resistant and easy to wipe clean, but it is a printed product so be gentle.
Re-rolling with the design on the outside will help to flatten out your vinyl backdrop after being stored rolled:
We'll go over a few storage tips at the end of the post but for now let’s get on with the fun part!
Using Your Backdrop
You can achieve a range of effects by experimenting with different orientations, such as:
- Behind the subject (as a wall)
- Underneath the subject (as a floor)
- Seamless style
For example, here is our Fandango backdrop used as both a flatlay surface and a 'back wall':
For product and food photography, shooting straight down using a flat-lay approach can create strong images with a graphical feel. This is one of the easiest ways to use a vinyl backdrop, as you can simply lay it on a smooth, clean floor or table top and secure the edges with low tack tape (like masking or kraft tape).
To use your vinyl backdrop as a ‘back wall’ for your images, you can again use tape to secure it to an existing wall or flat vertical surface. Also, we have found that a collapsible clothes rail provides as an excellent, affordable (and multi-tasking) alternative to a studio backdrop hanging system.
In the studio we use kraft tape or a clothes rail with clips or clamps to keep our vertical backdrops in place:
Using Two Backdrops
By using two vinyl backdrops as both the ‘wall’ and ‘floor’ of a scene, you can really experiment with creating different moods and stories. The backdrops can be either:
- The same design
- Complimentary colours and/or textures
- Completely contrasting designs
In these images you can see the same backdrop used twice vs. complimentary and contrasting textures:
Using the same backdrop twice results in an environment that does not distract from the subject while creating subtle, visual depth. Complimentary colours create a cohesive tonal look while still telling a story through the juxtaposition of textures; While contrasting colours and materials can create an exciting and eyecatching graphic image.
You can also use your backdrop to create a seamless effect by curving it between a top and bottom surface. This is best achieved by using two stable surfaces to minimise movement, and then securing the backdrop with low tack tape at the top and bottom edges. We find that this technique works best with textures that are do not feature straight lines, or would curve naturally.
Lighting Your Scene
The three basic types of lighting you may want to use with your vinyl backdrop are:
- Natural light
- Constant light
- Studio flash
We will get into more detail about lighting styles in a later post, but for now, lets just look at a few tips for shooting with each of these.
Natural light vs. constant light on the same backdrop produces different styles of shadow:
Natural light produces airy, diffuse illumination that is perfect for flat lay and editorial shots. We recommend that you avoid hard, direct sunlight by shooting on an overcast day, or by using a sheer white curtain to soften the light. Because this style of lighting is neutral, balanced and does not create harsh shadows it is often the most attractive for still-life. You can also make use of simple reflectors like silver or white card to bounce light into your scene, or black card to mask the light and create interesting shadows.
To create more controllable and/or dramatic results, you may want to use constant (tungsten or LED) lighting or strobe/studio flash. There are endless possibilities for working with artificial light – far too many to discuss in this quick post – but here are a few thoughts on using each:
Constant light is great for still life photography as it allows you to see exactly how the shot will look as you set up. It’s main disadvantage compared to strobe systems is it’s relative lack of power – but in the context of still life and product photography, where the subject is stationary, there is no problem with using a tripod for stability and a slower shutter speed. You may also find that a wider aperture results in lifestyle shots with more mood than a perfectly sharp, foreground to background flash shot!
Finally, on the topic of studio flash: If you already have access to a professional strobe system in your home/studio then I imagine you already know some lighting basics! But for those of you who are just getting started with this type of lighting, we will be looking into some great beginner kit and DIY light shaping hacks in a later post.
When you have finished using your vinyl backdrop you should remove any tape that has been used to fix it in place (as this can settle and lift off the print). Once you have done this, you can either:
- Roll the backdrop up tightly and place back into the packing tube.
- Roll gently and secure with a piece of low tack tape. This method retains less of a curl than if they were rolled tight in the tube.
- Store your backdrop flat in an A0 portfolio case or plan chest
- Store between two pieces of custom sized foam board (this could even fit under a sofa if you are running short on storage space!)