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Portrait Session With My Own Hand Painted Photography Backdrop

I painted my own canvas backdrop and this is what happened when I used it for the first time during an outdoor afternoon portrait session.

The fantasy went like this: I would unroll the blank, pre-primed five-by-seven-foot canvas, splash around a bit of paint, let it dry and then frolic breezily through the wildflowers with my model while effortlessly carrying the backdrop on its stand from scenic vignette to scenic vignette.

The reality went more like this: Windy day leads to misbehaving paint and unruly canvas and sends any pre-conceived notions of my upper body strength out the window. Turns out, backdrop painting is messy, especially when you have a small workspace subject to the elements. It's also unpredictable and not nearly as easy as it looks. And that chrome plated steel stand with a sail attached is much, much heavier than it looks.

With the help of a golf cart and my assistant/model, Maia, we managed to get it into place with only a few minor crashes. Thankfully, I wasn't too worried about damaging the backdrop since I knew I could always make another one. All-in-all it held up very well to the abuse.


When choosing where to shoot, my first thought was to face away from the light, as the sun was still fairly high and I wanted to avoid harsh shadows on the model and was hoping to achieve a bright and airy feeling.

Golden light and soft skin made my photographer heart glow. However, my "invisible" backdrop stand system became quite visible when backlit. A little disappointing, but I've made peace with it and as of this writing I've come into a full embrace with wabi sabi, the Japanese world view of accepting imperfection.

I love the warmth and texture captured in these shots and I think the backdrop helps define the space around the subject while also revealing something extra through placement in the environment.


In hopes of avoiding the shadow bleed through problem and harsh full strength sun, we moved on to a shadier spot with just a small swath of dappled sunlight. Not the aesthetic I was originally going for but perfect for a moody October scene.


I still wanted to find a less contrasty spot that would show off the backdrop a little better so we found a bit of shade. That and a softer, lower sun gave us some nice even light that really helped showcase the texture.

I used a shallower depth of field to blur the texture and focus more on the subject:


An added bonus with using primed canvas was that it enabled me to paint on both sides. I decided to use the same color for both but went slightly lighter and less textural on the back side:


As the sun sank even lower we ditched the backdrop to catch the golden glow unencumbered.


Overall, I like the results of the photos using my hand painted backdrop and I'll continue to work on my backdrop painting skills. I may need to add in a little more strength training to be able to carry around those heavy stands because I plan to add at least one more to my kit so I can have the option of hanging the backdrop with a stand on either side to get those nice backlit shots withOUT the support system showing through. I would also like to try setting up a scene with multiple backdrops to get a layered look with a lot of depth. But that's another blog post.

I loved having the option of using a backdrop by itself or within a scene instead of being limited to a studio. I also loved having a third option of capturing the scene alone in all its scenic glory. Unencumbered beauty at its best.

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