Unless you have a dedicated studio, collapsible backdrops are the way to go. I’ve had dedicated studios, and even then, collapsible backdrops are usually superior to full-size-need-a-huge-stand-loads-of-space-and-always-have-wrinkles backdrops. With one light and a collapsible backdrop, you could make a comfortable living.
Let me show you why collapsible backdrops are so great. I have three collapsible backdrops that I regularly use and a couple of must-have accessories.
Collapsing from a 7-foot oval to a 2.5-foot circle is obviously convenient for travel and storage, but collapsible backdrops are also just easier to use.
You can mount the backdrop to a single light stand instead of struggling with a backdrop stand that requires gymnastics to set up on your own. I got this marvelous clip from Kate Backdrops that holds the backdrop flawlessly.
It’s also easier to switch colors and styles. Collapsible backdrops come with two sides in different colors. Simply swapping the side makes an entirely different look.
Since the backdrop is on a single stand, you can alter the light on the backdrop just by twisting it toward and away from the light. When you twist it away (as seen above) it becomes darker, increasing the contrast and drama in the picture. But it doesn’t alter the light on your subject so your camera settings remain the same.
Chroma green/blue: Least used
It’s really useful to have a chroma key backdrop for those times when you need to swap the backdrop or compile a lot of people or objects together into a single image. This kind of photography can be lucrative and when you need it, you need it. It’s my least-favorite kind of shooting to do, though, because I end up focussing so much on the technical needs that creativity is often reduced.
But for $75, it’s totally worth having in your pocket. I have this one from Impact.
Grey/white: Most lucrative
When I travel for corporate clients, I always bring a white/grey collapsible backdrop. It makes headshots so easy. Even if my client didn’t plan to have me do headshots, if I’m ready for it I can often make a quick upsell. Headshots with it are easy and clean.
I have this Lastolite model, but there are less costly choices that could be as good. I would definitely try to get the 6×7′ model over the 5×6′. You never know when you’ll need to photograph all four of the executive team at once. I’ve made tens of thousands of dollars with this backdrop.
Old masters: Most fun
This could actually become my most lucrative backdrop style. Peter Hurley has lately swapped his headshots from plain backdrops to textured old masters-style painted backdrops. They’re called “old masters” because they are reminiscent of the style of painters like Rembrandt, and to me, that comparison is a great start to any portrait.
My backdrop is from Kate Backdrops. A typical feature of these kinds of backdrops is a gentle tonal change with a slightly brighter center and darker edges. I love that because the pictures look more finished in the camera and my subjects get excited about it.
The Kate Backdrops are especially good because they have a velvety texture that makes them perfectly matte. Light shining across the backdrop falls off very naturally without hotspots. The material is also particularly wrinkle-free.
I got this model from Kate Backdrops that has a warm brown on one side with a blue and green reverse side. Switching the color and tone of the backdrop to coordinate with your subject’s wardrobe can help take your portraits to the next level.
When I use the warm-toned side, it somehow excites my creativity. I often switch the camera to monochrome mode, knowing that I’ll end up making many black and whites in the end. The warm tones work with an orange filter to become a little brighter in black and white.
I’ve also used this backdrop resting directly on the ground and found the thin black edging fits naturally into the photo.
These dramatic, contrasty, one-light pictures are my favorite portraits to make. I know I could market this as my style and niche and make a good living doing it.
Whatever kind of pictures you make, collapsible backdrops can help your subjects stand out appropriately. Chroma key colors are useful, grey and white can be useful for corporate headshots, but old masters backdrops can stir your creativity and help you make wonderful portraits for your subjects.
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And here’s a little help for putting those collapsible backdrops away: