I know, I know, I’m always saying that the background is just in the back and the important thing is your subject. It kinda drives me crazy when photographers pull their hair trying to find backgrounds for their shoots. The most important thing in a picture is the person and their expression, the second is the light, and the background is way down the list.

Nonetheless, the background needs to be there, and using a paper background gives you many options and can even add some energy to your shoot.

Unlimited colors, unlimited fun

Paper backgrounds come in all colors of the rainbow. B&H carries a huge variety. When you use colored papers, you can quickly change the color by swapping backdrops. You can complement your subject’s clothes or just pull down something peppy. You can choose the wrong one, make a few frames, and say, “Whoa, definitely not that one!” and have a laugh with your client which will loosen things up and help them have fun, too.

Not just for studio

And don’t think that you have to use these huge nine-foot wide rolls that are mounted on the wall at the studio. You can get the narrow fifty-inch rolls and carry them anywhere you like. If you use a long lens for portraits, then a small background is more than enough for a single person or even a small family.

You can use a backdrop stand and set these up in the middle of the park in the sunshine (be sure to use sandbags on the stand to keep it steady), or you can roll it up from the floor and tape it to the wall with blue painter’s tape at anyone’s home or office. I use one like this, which is not the highest quality, but it’s inexpensive and if you treat gently it works well.

It doesn’t take much paper to make a good backdrop, but don’t be stingy, either. At $30 for 36 feet, it’s worth the fun to crinkle a little bit when necessary.

Get creative

Plus, it’s paper. You can do all kinds of things with it. Crinkle it into a paper scarf, draw on it, cut it up and glue it back together into a dress, the sky’s the limit.


Paper backdrops are a terrific addition to your portrait kit. Buy one a month and pretty soon you’ll have a fun collection that can help liven up your shoots. I can’t wait to see what you turn out.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.