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Using v-flats to boost shadows for a promotional photoshoot

I recently was tasked with scheduling two photoshoots with our local public school district, where the photos would be used in the Student Advancement Association’s annual gala (which I also photograph). The goal was simple. Show students, ages 5 to 18, doing things they would normally do throughout the school day.

But the client wanted the photographs on a white background, for a clean and crisp look. This would also allow them to send the photos to a college design class, which wanted them cut out for the flyers, posters and brochures they were developing for the gala.

In what ended up being five postponements due to the Polar Vortex snow days, we finally set a date that worked and went to work.

The challenge

If you’ve ever worked with a white backdrop before, you know that shadows will always be somewhat present when utilizing a light setup. For me, I usually photograph with a two-light strobe setup, using my AlienBee B800’s and shooting through two parabolic umbrellas. This has proved to be my go-to for many years, as it’s simple to reproduce when necessary.

Unedited. Don’t you just love shadows?!?

In this case, I knew I’d be dealing with some shadows, not only with the subjects but also the props they were interacting with. We had students play around with things like basketballs, globes, books, backpacks, paint swatches and more.

The solution

This was the perfect opportunity to me to finally use my V-Flat World v-flats, that I was sent for review. These are foldable and portable v-flats that, when expanded, reaching a size of 40×80 inches.

The v-flats also feature a black side, but I did not utilize that for this photoshoot.

Setting up the v-flats was a super easy process — so much so that the college students were able to set them up without me giving them any instruction on how to do so. Here’s a quick article that walks you through the process.

Courtesy Ferris State University

For the first photoshoot, I set up my AlienBee strobes just as I normally would put them at the top of the paper and then angled in toward the center. I then moved them back about a foot or two to allow for some breathing room. For the v-flats, I put them in front of the lights. Surprisingly, this didn’t work as well and didn’t eliminate the shadows as much as I would have liked.

Courtesy Ferris State University

For the second photoshoot, I switched things up. Instead of putting the v-flats in front of the lights, I put them directly behind. This allowed for any light that hit the v-flats to bounce back on the subject and the paper, creating more of an evenly lit scene without having to change my lighting setup.

Photo from the second photoshoot before any edits took place.

Alternatively, I could have moved the v-flats closer to the background, having them only affect the background instead of the subject. But doing so would have meant I’d probably have to crank up my lights, which is something I didn’t want to do.

The results

For the first photoshoot, I was pretty happy. The v-flats really helped in terms of toning down the shadows and evening out the background. But I still had some issues with some of the larger props, where I had to go in and manually boost the shadow levels multiple times in Lightroom or Photoshop.

For the second photo shoot, I moved my lights and v-flats closer to the subject. This seemed to help dramatically, and I didn’t come across any major shadow issues. I still boosted the shadow and white levels somewhat, which completely eliminated the in most cases. But it wasn’t near as much work the second time around.

The V-Flat World v-flats took what could have been a time-consuming project and turned it into something that I could turn around in record time. I can’t wait to use them again!

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