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Photography Question 

Backdrops for Portraits

I'm very much an amateur photographer, and am wondering how exactly to use backdrops when photographing people. I know you can buy and even make wonderful backdrops, but how exactly do you suspend them? So far my pics have been mostly of babies, so my backdrops are thrown over the back of a large chair, and that works fine if I get down to their level. Gets a little harder when trying to photograph adults though... Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

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5/23/2003 5:44:28 AM

Stan    You can purchase backdrop stands. Or, make your own. I went to the local home improvement store and bought PVC pipe and fittings (white plastic pipe that'll be located in the plumbing aisle). I use 1" diameter. For around $20 you should be able to rig something that stands 6 feet high and 5 feet wide.
The nice thing is, you can take it apart for storage when your finished.

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5/25/2003 7:33:16 PM

Albert Guevara   The PVC way is what I have done for the last 2 years, and it has worked wonderfully for me... I guess once I go full time, then I will think about spending the money on a "real" support system, but for now, PVC works great. You can even screw the connecting pieces for a stronger hold. Have fun!

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5/27/2003 7:54:52 AM

Georgia Agrait   When I got started my husband built me a background holder out of very large PVC so it would be stable. It worked very well especially to get me started. However, even though it was attached to the wall it still popped apart several times when the weight of the background combined with a wrong step backwards. It scared me for the safety of the children so I finally bought a real background stand by Photek and it is so easy and very stable. I haul it around every where and use it in my house.
If you have a chance you might want to check out for backdrops. Gail Degnans work is beautiful and she has hand dyed high quality muslin backgrounds as well as her hand painted scenics! She helped me get started and I think alot of my school work and re-orders is because I have a reputation for using really unique backgrounds instead of the generic gels or paper that school photographers typically use.
Best of luck!!

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5/27/2003 10:16:54 AM

Lee    I built a PVC stand but it took up too much room; it had "feet" like an upside down "T", which kept it about 3 feet from the wall, eating up more scarce space.

Now I use two aluminum poles that were meant to be used as brush handles. These came from a building center. They expand easily from abut 6 feet to 10. They run vertically into a one inch copper tubing elbow that can be slipped inside the tube of seamless backdrop.

If I am using fabric for a backdrop, I have a i/2 inch copper tubing piece that slides inside the elbows, and I use binder clips to hold it up.

I also have a two pieces of dense sponge backing material at the top, which I pierced onto the elbow. NOTE, by using the poles expandable feature, I can press the sponge into the ceiling, and it keeps everything standing. There are no "feet", the tension between the floor and ceiling keeps it in place.

This is light weight and portable.

When using fabric, I have denim which was on sale at Hobby Lobby; I had a local seamstress stitch it together to get a 10 foot wide piece. It is darker/lighter denim depending on the side facing the camera, and it folds up into a manageable size bundle.

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5/28/2003 7:29:18 AM

Judith A. Clark   These all sound like wonderful ideas if your handy, but you can get a decent background stand for less then $100. Go to a large camera store in your area, or try some online sites like B and H photo. They come with a bag so they are portable, they fold down to a small size for storage and they are completly worth the money. If you want this to go anywhere, you don't want to appear to thrown together. Also for backdrops, try watch for specials and start with something basic.

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5/28/2003 2:08:23 PM

Lee    I started out with a low end $100 stand but with a roll of seamless paper backdrop at the top, or heavier canvas like material, a little bump or tug would cause it to fall down, right in the middle of a shoot. The subjects probably won't remember if you had a do it yourself background stand, but they sure will remember if the thing falls on their heads!
I use seamless from at terrific small company near the paper mills of Wisconsin's Fox River Valley. I had been ordering them from the places in New York and -with shipping- paying about $150 for a 9 ft wide roll. Now I go to Badger Graphics and pay less than $50 and carry it out under my arm. They have a tremendous selection. For anyone in the hinterlands of Wisconsin, Badger Graphics is 920 766-9332. No toll free number, no web site. They pass the savings on to you.
Lastly, Backdrop Outlet which Judith recommended, is a great source, just as she says, especially for unusual and unique soft cloth backgrounds. Occasionally they have free model shoots at their store, OK if you can handle a hideous drive into Chicago.

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5/28/2003 2:52:56 PM

Judith A. Clark   My backdrop stand is a Savage Port-A-Stand. I think I payed $109 for it and it has never fallen on anyones head. I have a two year old and a seven year old of my own, if it weren't sturdy, I won't have been able to use it for 2 years. I recommend this stand or one made by a good company so you don't have to worry about accidents. On background here is my tip, I forgot to mention this earlier. Go to a paint store, and buy a large canvas drop cloth. Use Rit dye, you can buy it in the laundry section at Wal-Mart. You have a great solid backdrop for less then $30. I dye mine in the washer. I have also copied some of the designes in catologs with king size sheets and fabric paint. If you get really creative, you can come up with great backgrounds to start with little money involved. I don't use paper, because I shoot kids and pets. I just can't see paying the money for something I can't throw in the washer.

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5/28/2003 4:15:56 PM

Shirley D. Cross-Taylor
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/7/2001
Contact Shirley
Shirley's Gallery
  Hi Dominique. If I'm just doing basic portraits, I throw a blanket, sheet, or other fabric over my projection screen for a background. Works great. For full-length, or action shots, my husband rigged a long pole to which he permanently attached a king-size black velux blanket. This can be placed across the two tracks of our garage door opener and the blanket hangs down over the garage door. When not in use, he just rolls the blanket around the pole and sets it aside. If you want a different background, it can be attached over the pole, over the existing blanket. These blankets and sheets are all machine washable.

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6/3/2003 12:31:50 PM

Phil Grayson   This subject is too good to ignore. Two years ago I built my portable PVC backdrop setup of 1-1/2" Schedule 40 PVC that is 10' wide and 7-1/2' tall because I do our church directory and we have some large families. It has feet on it and yes it eats about 3 feet of the room to get it away from the wall. I also place subjects another 2 to 3 feet away from the backdrop. I used a center vertical support piece to keep it relatively stable. The backdrop is brown uphostlery material (on-sale) and my wife had to sew it (2 pieces) together to make it fit. If you do this, make sure the nap of the two pieces lies in the same direction and be prepared to deal with the seam (which did not blend in). I set my flash so it lights the subjects well but not that much of the material. I put grommets in the top and its secured to the top PVC piece with 7-1/2" plastic straps. It is not pretty but it works. I just need to get away from brown.

I also use my son's music stand to hold a piece of foam board 32" x 40 " and clamp various colors/textures of materials to it. It is pecarious but does work for head n shoulders shots and couples up close.

I have since bought a proper stand and 2 paper rolls; but for this year's church directory I am using old faithful. By the way, be the volunteer photographer at your church to get started. You can make all sorts of goofs and errors without much damage as you get things sorted out.

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6/3/2003 1:17:59 PM

Lee    I think this is just tremendous the creativity and can do attitude to find something or make something that works for us. You people are GOOD.

I found that a slide projector screen...often found at garage sales and auctions for about a dollar or an interesting "flash bouncer" also.

For the seam issue, I had the local seamstress make two seams, so they would never be in the center of the picture. Like 1/2/1 panel sizes between seams.

In thinking about tipping stands, now I remember that I had problems when using a very heavy hand-painted canvas like material that I had bought from an old studio that was going out of business. The thing was stiff and 12 feet wide. So I'm sorry if I demeaned the lower cost equipment. [You may have seen some of my earlier work...the subjects all had bumps on their heads.]

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6/3/2003 1:46:08 PM

Dominique    Wow. I never expected such great, creative responses. I LOVE the music stand idea, and I already own one so I plan to try that tonight. My poor husband is a very "unwilling" guinea pig...

At the risk of not appearing to be quite as "legitimate" as the rest of you, I'm completely digital, so the seam issue shouldn't be a problem for me. The one thing I can't do is sew though!

Anyway, thanks again to everyone. Slowly but surely all the pieces to my new undertaking are falling into place. Now I just have to summon up the courage to actually try making a go of it.


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6/4/2003 5:43:51 AM

Kim    What a great way to rape it all up !!
Thanks this will help me lots

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7/27/2003 7:41:42 PM

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