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How to make beautiful backgrounds with v-flats

Taking a lesson from my nature photography roots for my studio work, I always try to compose my background first. With wildlife, this is often a split second decision in terms of positioning and adjustment. In the studio, you can be much more proactive and finely tune your background to fit your vision for the image. While I use a variety of different materials and scenes for backgrounds, I often use v-flats as a tool to control the look of my background. In this article are tips and techniques on how to use a v-flat either as the background, or a way to “clean up” the background area that will appear in your image.

Outside a window for “clean up”

I am fortunate to have a huge window in my main studio, seriously this thing is 7 feet tall by 8 feet wide. It provides rich beautiful natural light throughout the day, but when shooting from inside, at some angles the outside view can be a little “busy.” While you can change your angles to some degree, I use V-Flat World v-flats as a fast way to block off the view, while still letting the light in.

A v-flat blocks a busy background.
The v-flat blocks out the busy background

You can face either black or white toward the window, it’s up to the photographer in that regard. Personally, I often use the black for my reflection images, it intensifies the look and clarity of the reflection, removing unwanted distractions in the background. Just be careful that you don’t place the flat to close and block the light coming in, especially later in the day when the sun is lower in the sky.

Control hot spots and shine

In this image, the light is a blend of natural and strobe light to fill in the shadows. However, the glossy floor picked up shine from another window in this room. Setting up a v-flat, a few feet in front of the window allows a great deal of the light to come in the room, but stops the reflection of the window from appearing in the floor. I place it so the black flat faces into the room, with the white toward the window at an angle so it bounces the light into the room instead of absorbing it

Impromptu backdrop support

If you don’t want a flat featureless texture, you can drape fabric over your v-flat to give it some contours. Using just a couple of clothes pins to hold it in place, its quicker and easier to set this up than a full backdrop support. Any colored fabric works. I keep a supply of black, white, and various colors on hand just for this type of use. Keep an eye on craigslist or other marketplaces, you can often get used ones in fairly good shape from restaurants or caterers when they swap them out for new or different colors.

Taking it a step further, experiment with using different colors and translucence of your fabrics. Here I used a sheer red cloth under a sheer black cloth. A flash aimed at them from below in the background produces this fiery effect, with just a minor adjustment in Lightroom to shift the reds toward orange. This is a great trick for when you can’t set real fires on the set!

Negative fill with one v-flat and a tablecloth

Here is a tip on how to use negative fill in your images using only one v-flat (get them at V-Flat World) and a tablecloth.

  • Position your v-flat in a “V” shape behind your subject, with the point of the V furthest from your subject, and with white facing in so it becomes the background.
  • Position your light. In this case, I used a Godox AD200 strobe in a large strip softbox, at about 45 degrees to the subject.
  • Put an opaque fabric, like the black tablecloth I mention above, draped over the side opposite your light, and clothespin it into place.
  • Optionally, add a second light on the floor pointed at your background, flagged so it doesn’t hit the black background.

Credits: Model Nova Amour shot at Cypress Creek Studio

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