Making the Background White

In this post we will see how we can get completely white background for product photography with just one flash.

The mouse picture was shot is JPEG, it has been cropped, resized and sharpened but I didn’t do anything in post to make the background white – so how do we get that white background?

The trick is extremely simple, the camera can only capture a very limited range of light intensity, we can move that range up to capture pictures of bright subjects or down to capture pictures of dark subjects but at the end we are limited by that range – anything brighter than the top of the range will become pure white (known as “blown highlights”) and anything darker than the bottom of the range will become pure black (“blocked shadows”).

Having blown highlights or blocked shadows unintentionally in the picture is considered a bad thing – but if we know about them and control them we can use them for our advantage.

In this post we will see how we can get white background, next week we will look at getting black background.

The first thing we need is space, light power falls off very quickly when we get farther from the light source – so if we can get some distance between our subject and the background we can more easily control the brightness of each of them individually.

Our model for today is s small green dinosaur, the dinosaur is standing on a piece of clear glass (actually some kind of plastic) I took out of a cheap picture frame, the glass is wedged into the space between two drawers so it’s suspended in the air.

Now we are ready to shoot the dinosaur (without flash – because we will use the flash later to light the background), for this we don’t even need to use manual mode, I’ve set the camera to Av mode (because that’s how I like to shoot) put the camera on a tripod (because I want to use lower ISO and longer shutter speed) and aim it at the dinosaur.

This is the photo I get:

Now it’s time to add flash, the flash is set to manual mode, connected to a cheap radio trigger and aimed at the wall behind the dinosaur, we want to set the flash to the lowest power level that will give us the white background – we want it bright enough to completely turn the background white but we don’t want light from the flash bouncing around and lighting our subject.

For this particular flash at this particular situation it was 1/64 of full power – I’ve got there by setting the flash to the lowest power and taking test shoots every time trying a slightly higher power level until I got to the level that burned the background (hint: the camera LCD screen is very bad for checking brightness but most cameras have a feature you can turn on that will make blown highlights blink).

Here is what the setup looked like, note the flash on the floor (because I didn’t have anything to put it on) pointed at the wall – sorry about the image quality, this picture was taken with my phone:

And this gets us this photo:

You can see that the near edge of the glass and the drawer holding our set are visible – but we don’t care because a simple crop will give us:


And that’s it, hope you found this useful, next week we’ll talk about making the background black.

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5 thoughts on “Making the Background White

  1. I wanted to ask this in stackexchange but don’t have enough rep to comment. my obvious question is how your dino is perfectly exposed when it isn’t lit with anything? when i’m indoors, anything i try to shoot isn’t so light sensitive that it would produce exposure that bright with just ambient lighting.

  2. OMG! Thank you so much! I make jewelry and have been been having a really hard time getting a crisp background. Because my camera is just a Canon Powershot SX 410 IS, I am limited but raising the jewelry off the background really helped a lot! Of course now I will spend the next 2 weeks taking new pics of my designs, but I am so excited!

  3. Thanks. This is one option I will try out after suffering with the grayish background problem

  4. Why does the backlight have to be a flash? I have a really bright LED lamp. Could I point that at the wall and achieve the same result?

  5. I couldn’t get this to work with any lamp or flashlight I had at the time, they weren’t nearly bright enough, but you can always try and maybe you lamp is

    You need to get the background at least 3 or 4 stops brighter then the correct exposure for your subject – that’s x8 or x16 times the light you need for the subject.

    Add that to the fact that in studio conditions you usually use very bright lights on the subject (because it gives a clearer picture with less noise) and that light on the background now has to really unbelievably bright – flashes can get you this amount of light easily, most continues lights do not.

    You can also use higher ISO or longer shutter speeds and less lights on the subject (of course, you pay for this in color vibrancy and noise).

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