How To Get Started With Photography Backdrops

How to use a backdrop

Here are some tips that I received in my early photography years by mentors that I highly respect. I hope you find some value in them as well.

Setting Up a Backdrop

Folded backdrop

When you receive your beautiful new backdrops it is likely they will be neatly folded. 

If it's an 8x8 it gets folded long three times.

backdrop setup

I first like to setup my stands and hang the new drop.

Next I give the background it’s ‘Welcome to your new home’ steam to remove all the wrinkles.

For storage I prefer to roll a background for two reasons:

1. It will take up less space in the background bins.

2. When they are brought out for a session they will have far less wrinkles.

Consider Your Client’s Wardrobe and What the Occasion is.

Ask your client questions and get to know them at a basic level.

Knowing just a little bit about your client will take the guess work of what they might like to have in the background during their session.

It doesn’t have to be an in-depth conservation. A simple “what is your favorite color” will do.

If we know they love yellow and flowers; wouldn’t we be more inclined to suggest a yellow, poppy background than an abandon building setting?

In the above image, my client said she wanted her daughter to do a winter session for the holidays.

I immediately knew it would have a Winter Wonderland look so I chose a winter backdrop.

I was able to setup the background before they got to the studio, making it an easy process for them.

Clients like to feel taken care of and to feel like their photographer has their best interests in mind. Getting photos made can be a stressful process for many people. If we can ease the process just a little they will love their session that much more.

After I knew she wanted a winter theme I suggested fuzzy jackets or warm looking outfits. I told her white on white would give a timeless, classic look.

We threw around the idea of her daughter wearing red and green, but they ultimately decided they liked the white look best.

Most clients look to us for suggestions, but we should remember that, at the end of the day, our clients have the final word. As photographers and artists we should be able to go with the flow.

Lighting On-Location Verses in the Studio 

On-location we have the natural lighting to manipulate with a simple turn of a diffuser or reflector.

In the studio we don’t have that forgiving natural light.

If we look at a standard four light set up we can get an idea of how our lights work together to separate our subjects from the background.

backdrop lighting

Our key or main light should be our brightest light and directed fully on the subject. The fill should be half a stop less than the key light. If the key light measures at F8 that means the fill should be set to measure at F5.6.

The Fill’s job is to fill in the harsher shadows the key light can create on the subject’s face. The backlight will be set to measure half the key light as well giving a nice separation between the subject and the background.

The last light is the background light. This is important as it will cast an even light across the scene making it come to life behind the subject.  

This lighting setup is one that I have found to be the most successful in my portrait works. Lighting should match your personal portrait style. If there is a theme to the session I will use a different lighting setup. 

I hope these tips I’ve passed down have been helpful. They were extremely helpful to elevating my portrait works when I was just starting out.

Arin Phillips Photography
Arin Phillips specializes in designing magazine style portraits for families, HS Seniors, and holds a few commercial accounts in Nashville, TN. Arin attended Watkins College of Art, Film & Design before entering her professional career as a photographer. She has 9 years of photographic experience and enjoys working on-location as well as photographing in her studio. When she is not photographing portraits, she travels Tennessee in search of that perfect landscape for a personal project she is currently exploring.


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