Dark photos: how to make a black background | Lesson | Photo, video, optics


A dark background is a great way to draw the viewer’s attention to the subject in the frame. Whether it’s portrait or product photography, on a black background there is no way to look at objects behind — the eye focuses on the main character of the frame. Such photos look minimalistic, contrasting, mysterious, stylish.

We tell you how to make a black background in a photo without Photoshop using light schemes and what life hacks on the set will give a better result.

On a black background, you can make it as a dramatic emotional portrait, embody a gloomy or melancholy story, or create a stylish minimalist frame / Photo: unsplash.com

How to make a black background in a photo — working light schemes

It is impossible to make a dark background in a photo without building competent light schemes for this task. The most important rule is to cut off the rays that tend to hit the camera or the background as much as possible. We share four simple light schemes for a black background that even a beginner will repeat.

Light scheme for a black background with one source

A simple lighting scheme where only one flash is needed. Suitable for any portraits — brutal male, emotional, dramatic, stylish female. It can look especially impressive in black and white.

Illustration: Elizaveta Lentchevicha, Photostore.Expert

You will need:

  • monoblock with a nozzle called a tube. To further narrow the beam of light, put a honeycomb on the tube. The light should be on the side and slightly behind the model. Let the model turn to face the light or stand in three quarters;
  • a black flag or a reflector with black cloth, which will block light from the camera that accidentally enters the frame.

Circuit Features:

  • half of the model’s face in shadow;
  • the model smoothly merges with the background, dissolving in it;
  • the light does not hit with a large spot of light, but, as it were, circles the model from the side with a wide backlight.

Light scheme with a black background for a portrait

This lighting scheme is suitable if it was not possible to completely darken the room. For example, there are no curtains in the studio or they cover the window only partially. Also, the scheme can be used in a bright room. This arrangement of flags will make it so that the light will not be reflected from the walls.

Illustration: Elizaveta Lentchevicha, Photostore.Expert

You will need:

  • a beauty dish with a honeycomb to direct contrasting light onto the model. The honeycombs will help to further concentrate the light in the center and make sure that it does not hit the background. In this scheme of light, it is especially important to place the model as far away from the background as possible. Ideally, if it is a distance of 3 meters or more;
  • two black flags or reflectors that will block the model from the light from the window or light walls.

Circuit Features:

  • the model dissolves into the darkness, merging with the background;
  • a beam of light illuminates the face and torso;
  • contrasting spectacular light with dark deep shadows and bright highlights.

Light scheme with black background for portrait or product photography

A light scheme that will not only help you get a beautiful black background, but will also separate the subject from the background and emphasize its shape. This purpose is served here by a reflector (preferably with honeycombs), which will create a backlight.

Illustration: Elizaveta Lentchevicha, Photostore.Expert

You will need:

  • light with honeycombs. If you want to get hard shadows and high contrast in the picture, to emphasize the relief, use a beauty dish, a reflector. For softer and more gentle light, opt for a softbox. But ask to put honeycombs on it so that it does not scatter light to the sides so intensely;
  • a reflector with honeycombs, which will stand behind and slightly to the side of the model. It will give a backlight that will separate the model from the background with a thin bright strip of light. If suddenly there is no reflector in the studio, use a stripbox with honeycombs;

Circuit Features:

  • contrasting light from the side, emphasizing the relief of the object, the texture of the skin;
  • a thin rim of light behind the model, emphasizing the silhouette and separating her from the background.

Light scheme with black background for portraits and product photography

A simple light circuit that requires only one light source and a reflector. Thanks to him, you can get a neat portrait or photo of the product, where the object will be neatly highlighted from both sides.

Illustration: Elizaveta Lentchevicha, Photostore.Expert

You will need:

  • light source, preferably with a honeycomb to make the light more directional. This is especially important if you don’t have flags. If there are flags, then you can even afford a large softbox;
  • two flags or black reflectors that will prevent light from reaching the background or the camera;
  • white, gold or silver reflector facing the flash. The reflected light will gently illuminate the side of the model that is away from the main light. Besides the fact that half of the object will not be drowned in darkness, this setting of the reflector will also slightly separate the model or object from the background.

Circuit Features:

  • light from the side, emphasizing the relief of the object, the texture of the skin;
  • contrasting light, which gives the model deep, sharply defined shadows;
  • neat illumination from the side, highlighting the second half of the face.

These schemes can be attributed to a style in photography called low key.

Read also:

Low key: what it is, how to shoot, lighting schemes

How to make a dark background — 5 tips

To get a beautiful black background in a photo, many points need to be thought out in advance. For example, to build a suitable lighting scheme and not lose heart if the background does not turn out perfectly black right away — the final touches can be made in post-processing. But, in order not to sit in Photoshop for days, we share tips that will help you quickly and easily get a beautiful dark background.

  • Position the model as far away from the background as possible.

The farther the model is from the background, the less random light from flashes will fall on it. This way you don’t have to darken in Photoshop the gray spots that will appear from the light hitting the black background.

The model is too close to the background, so there is a gray spot behind her / Photo: unsplash.com
  • Close curtains and turn off overhead lights.

Ask the staff of the photo studio to close the windows in the room, even if it is dusk or cloudy. Yes, the light from the flash will most likely kill the glow from the window, and small light spots in the background can be removed in Photoshop, but why take the risk and do extra work?

  • Use black flags.

To ensure that the naughty light from the flash gets only where you need it and does not shine into the camera, close the camera from the candy bar using a black flag. This is a special lightweight design, sometimes even from a simple painted foam, with which you can cut off excess light. As a rule, they are in any photo studio, but it is better to check in advance. If there is no flag, no problem! You can cut off excess light even with an ordinary reflector. Manufacturers often make 5 in 1 or 7 in 1 kits, where there is always a black fabric.

  • Use modeling light on flashes.

Pilot light allows you to see what kind of light and shade pattern will be on the subject: where the shadows will lie, how the glare will appear in the eyes. In addition, the modeling light will help the camera to focus on the subject if you are shooting in complete darkness.

To turn on the pilot light, press the Pilot or Model button on the studio flash, or ask a staff member to do it for you / Photo: unsplash.com
  • Opt for hard light and honeycomb attachments.

Hard light is more contrasting and shines directionally without scattering in different directions. Due to this, less light enters the background and the model. For example, with a small beauty dish, you can hardly illuminate the entire model, but you will get a beautiful, bright and contrasting bust portrait.

If you are working with light shaping attachments that produce soft light, a honeycomb will help make it harder and more directional. This is a fabric mesh that makes the beam of light narrower and, accordingly, reduces the illumination of the background.

Read also:

Studio lighting: what it consists of and how to set it up

Hard light: how to get it, life hacks for shooting


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