Becky Hale is a staff photographer for National Geographic. She is also the mother of two children who often become her photographic subjects.
Most people don’t have a studio at their disposal, but shooting a head-to-toe portrait on white seamless is a lot simpler than you may imagine. It’s a great way to capture the character of your subject by isolating them on a clean, simple background and you don’t need a lot of gear.
Here’s what you’ll need:
3. Roll of super-white background paper
4. Roll of heavy-duty tape
5. A flat surface (like a driveway) that’s in open shade
6. A tall friend or a ladder
7. A willing subject
Step 1: Location
You want to shoot this portrait in open shade, so finding the perfect spot is important. My small one-story garage casts a shadow on my driveway, but the rest of the driveway is in the sun. The light hitting the driveway (and houses across the street) fill my subject’s face with even, soft light. There is no direct light hitting my subject and my background paper is completely in the shade.
Step 2. Setup
Unroll your paper. The big roll end should remain on the ground. Pull the paper up as high as you can and tape it straight across a flat surface. In my case, I taped it to the top of my garage door. It doesn’t have to be pretty as it won’t be in shot. Roll the paper out a few feet, so that your subject has about two or three feet of paper to stand on.
Step 3. With your subject standing against the background and with their body completely in the shade, start shooting and expose for the white paper. This is really important as you want the paper to go white, not gray. If can be very easy - especially if you’re shooting outside - to be fooled by your camera display and accidentally underexpose this shot. Sometimes I’ll even zip inside to look at the image out of the bright sun to be sure my exposure is ok. You can always tweak exposure and contrast after-the-fact, but like all scenarios, you want your in-camera image to be really strong.
A few tips:
• I use a 53” background like this. If you want to shoot more than one person, you’ll need something wider.
• I like using a tripod. It allows me to set up the shot and then step away from my camera a bit, make eye contact with my subject (especially if they’re my kids) and keep the shoot feeling fun and less formal.
• If you’re shooting outside, keep your surroundings in mind. If your lawn is just beyond your subject, it could be casting green light onto their faces. It’s best to have a pretty neutral color reflecting into your paper.
• It’s fine to put your white balance on “Auto”!