Studio Lighting | Perfect Separation on white seamless

So, if you have ever shot in the studio, you may have shot images on a seamless backdrop which is a simple way to get great looking images without much distraction from you client. You can also easily cut clients out from a seamless if you need to do a composite. Sometimes though, you need a classy, simple shot on a pure white or gray seamless, and although it may seem straight-forward, it can be very tricky to nail it.


There are tons of blogs, ideas and systems out there for shooting on a white seamless and getting the background blown out so it turns pure white or grey, but not blasting so much light back into the camera that it hazes out the images, or loses the contrast between your client and the background. Today I will show you the easiest way to get that perfect separation.


Some photographers say that you need to have your main light at f/11, then your background light at f/16 to blow out that background just right. Some say that you need to have them a certain amount of feet away from the background. Some say that you need to get your blinkies on the back of your camera flashing on the background and not your client, then it will be right. Zack Arias, on his Tumblr Blog, suggested using the blinkies, then adding 1/3 more or less and learning your system then checking them to see what needs to be adjusted. So which method is correct?


All of that can work with lots of guessing, but there is a much more simple way to do this that I learned from Jerry Avenaim, a major commercial photographer who shoots A-List celebrities and add campaigns like Diesel.


Here we go!

Step 1. Set up your seamless backdrop. I like to have it plenty high and a nice curve close to the floor so that lighting fades off and does not create a dark spot near the floor seam.

white seamless

Step 2. Light your main subject however you want and at whatever f/stop you want. For this example, we will use my settings which were f/11 on my main/key light.

Step 3. Light your white seamless. In the example I am using, I used a 22 inch beauty dish with diffuser (to spread the light out and not create a hot spot) flown over with a boom. The best way to light a seamless, is with four lights (2 stacked on each side) using umbrellas for perfect coverage. We didn’t have enough gear to do that on this shoot, so we compromised with one light. Using one light does have the potential to have a soft gradient fall off of light on the edges, so be careful that it is far enough away from the seamless to spread evenly!

(This images is just the background light and the kicker lights)

Step 4. Use the The One Stop Rule (Avenaim Style)! Now, simply meter the light bouncing off the seamless and hitting your subjects back to ONE STOP LESS than your main light. So again, in this example, I metered my Key light (the main light for my subjects body and face as seen in the behind the scenes image on camera left) to f/11 (ISO 100 & 1/100th of a second). Now I just need to the light bouncing off of the seamless and hitting the clients backside to read f/8 to get PERFECT separation every single time!


Main light is f/11

Light bouncing off seamless and hitting clients back, f/8

(For this particular shoot, we didn’t want pure white, but a light grey, so we went with a 1.5 stop rule on the background light to give it that sleek, grey tone)

As long as that light that is hitting their backside is at least one stop below the main light, you will always have perfect separation in your white seamless images, even if they are wearing white. As you can see in this super close up, there is plenty of separation between the background and even the highlights of my subject. Perfect!

To get the grey seamless look like in these shots, go for 1.5 to 2 stops less on their backside. Also, be careful when flying a light over the top of the background as you don’t want to accidently meter the light coming directly from the source and get an incorrect reading.

In the final shot, I had a main light, a fill light (both on the front of my subject), 2 background separation lights coming in at 45 degree angles to their shoulder/backs, then the 5th light hitting the seamless and sending minus 1.5 stops light back to them. My camera exposure was f/11, ISO 100, then any shutter speed I want below 1/200th since the shutter speed has no effect on flash exposures.