Create A Black Background From A White Wall: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace

Hi everybody, welcome to another episode of Exploring Photography, right here on AdoramaTV. I’m Mark Wallace and in today’s episode we’re gonna talk about this big white wall back here. A couple of episodes ago I made a video about high contrast black and white portraits right here, I have received I don’t know hundreds of emails and posts and comments, asking me how the heck I made this white wall black, in fact I’ve done this several times, where you take a white wall like this, and it becomes black in the photos. How is that possible? It’s really simple to do, and we’re gonna do that today, and to help me out I have a fantastic model her name is Maria. Nice to see her yeah, and so what we’re gonna do is we have one single light, and we’re not going to do any fancy lighting setups or anything for this video, but we’re going to look at the principle of controlling our light, and our light fall-off, and learn how we can illuminate Maria on a white wall, but get even a punch to your image by illuminating her a different way. So that white wall becomes a gradient, it goes to black with a smidge of white. It’s gonna be pretty awesome, so let’s get to it right now. To clearly understand this, first I’m going to set up our basic lighting setup as I normally would, on a normal background, and so what we have here is we’ve had this Profoto two-foot Octa box, and it is just a little bit less than a 45 degree angle to the side, and so you notice this softbox is illuminating Maria, but it’s also illuminating this white background, that means this is going to show up in our exposure, so let me just show you this really quickly. I’ll come over here and Maria… just look right at me, beautiful, just like that, and I’ll take a shot and you can see that this is not a great picture, but you can see that we have a white background, and a sort of a nasty shadow, but that’s what we would expect with a white wall, a white background. How do we get that white background to go from white to black, and the answer is simply, we just need to not illuminate it. So the reason this white background is white remember is, because light is hitting this wall. So if we remove the light, we will make this a dark background. So just to really illustrate this, what I’m going to do is, I’m going to take my PocketWizard off, which means that the flash is not going to fire. I’m going to take another photo, I’m an ISO 100 f/8, and 1/80th of a second, so look right at me Maria, so I’m at the same exact place I was before. I’m gonna take a picture with no flash, and that is a completely black image, which means the only light that’s hitting that back wall is the light from this flash. None of the light here in the studio is doing anything to that white wall. So on video it’s confusing, because it looks like a white wall. It should show up as a white wall, but it doesn’t, the reason is the ambient light, the lights were using for the video, just aren’t bright enough to make a proper exposure at f/8 ISO 100 and 1/180th of a second. The only light that the camera sees is the light from the flash, and if this light from the flash is hitting our white wall, our white wall is gonna be white. So how do we fix that, it’s quite simple we just need to move the flash, and that’s what we’re gonna do next. Now we’ve moved our single light off axis we’re almost at a 90 degree angle, so let me just show you so Sam’s gonna move this little Osmo here, and we’re gonna walk through this, notice the, the angle of this softbox, and so it’s not facing this back wall. It is at a 90 degree angle from where my camera’s gonna be, so light, it’s gonna be falling on Maria, it’s not gonna be falling on this black wall. It’s black because there’s no light, there might be some light falling over here, because of the spread, so if we zip on to the other side you can sort of see how we’re controlling that. So this softbox has a grid on it, this grid controls the spread of light, so as it’s coming out, it’s not hitting this white wall. It might hit right back here, which would be a cool effect, because this is going to be a lighter portion of this wall than this. It’ll go from black, to a little bit white and that’ll be really cool, so now that we have things set up. What I need to do is meter and then I am going to take this shot, so we’re going to take this really quickly, meter the light, that meters right at f/8, so I’ll hang up my meter really quickly, Maria’s gonna look right into that. I’m gonna come way back here and focus this, frame it all up, just like I want. That looks wonderful, we’ll take the shot, and it looks exactly as I described, so we have two on the right-hand side of the image, a black wall but where the light is spilling we get that contrast of gray that offsets Maria, and it looks fantastic. Thank you so much Maria, I love these images, and it was really simple to do, we just added a grid, we moved the light to this side, we controlled the fall-off of that line, made sure that the light didn’t get to the white wall, except when we wanted it to, and so we got a really cool gradient contrasty profile shot, which I absolutely love. You can do this in your own studio if you’ve got white seamless paper, or a white wall, just control the light. If you want that wall to be black, don’t illuminate it. That is as easy as it is. Well thanks so much for joining us this week make sure you subscribe to Adorama TV it’s free! Follow me on Instagram, and if you want to check out Maria’s awesome modelling work, you can look in the description of this video, we’ve included a link to her stuff so you can see that as well. Thanks again for following us and we will see you again next time!

30 Replies to “Create A Black Background From A White Wall: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace”

  1. Thank you for this video. Will I be right if I say that any colored wall would turn to black as long as the camera settings eliminate the light in space and that the light from the stobe does not hit the background? There might even be paintings and picture frames hanging on the wall. Thank you.

  2. The softbox grid should make a significant difference in a small studio space. I am not sure if that was mentioned, but it is something to consider to replicate the results so close to a wall.

  3. If u still find it complicated to understand all u need to do is to switch off flash.dial on your camera f11 1/250th ISO 100.take a picture of background.all have to be pitch black.if it is not stop it further to f16. Then place model away from wall.dial flash power at 1/2 of power.take a pic.done.u might want to play with power of flash depending what ur using but don.t change any settings in camera.have fun

  4. Mark, you did already years ago fantastic video where your model stays in the middle of studio, very close to big soft box and reflector on other side and the background was absolutely black because of inverse square law. I recommend to watch also this video

  5. I love how you moved the video camera to show the wall’s proximity to the flash. Many instructional videos don’t give a clear 3D representation of the location, distance and angles of everything on-set. Brilliantly done.

  6. Great tutorial, Mark. By taking into account the equation for light fall-off, you can also darken your light background by moving your subject away from the background and your light toward your subject. The bigger the difference between the distance from light-to-subject and subject-to-background, the darker the background will get, even if you're shooting right at it (sounds counter-intuitive; light is odd).

  7. What about just moving the model a couple of steps forward from the wall? Should work just as fine, especially when shooting with a grid

  8. Great in a large studio but in a smaller room there will be light bouncing off other walls. To combat this, put a cheap backdrop stand with a black backdrop attached to it behind the model, opposite the flash and just out of frame, this will greatly reduce the amount of light bouncing back onto the white wall and spoiling the effect.

  9. It is funny that you have a mirror in the background that is reflecting the light from the flash right back to the wall you try to avoid 😂

  10. I can't get the background black when I try this. Idk what I'm doing wrong. When I set my camera iso 100, shutter 200, f8 its pitch black with ambient room light on. As soon as I turn the flash on and take a photo with subject the background still appears. Not as bright but nonetheless it's still appears. Any tips would be greatly appreciated. I'm using the godox tt685n flash with manfroto speedbox compact

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