The Invisible Black Backdrop – Photography Technique

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: January 19, 2010

Category: General

Over the past few weeks in preparation for the launch of my new ‘InSight Photography Workshop’ I’ve been running ‘testers’ (mini workshops) with groups of photographers to teach a range of lighting techniques and also to get brutal honest feedback.

One of the techniques I’ve been teaching has become affectionately knows as ‘The Invisible Black Backdrop’ and without doubt has proven to be one of the most popular techniques amongst attendees. So, this got me thinking…why not write a tutorial, post it on the blog and then encourage those who give it a go to submit their photographs?…I mean, what better way to judge your teaching than by seeing the results achieved by others?

So…what is the ‘Invisible Black Backdrop’?
Well as the saying goes ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ so here’s what I mean:

There’s no question that having this technique in your ‘Photography Toolbag’ can save you alot of time, effort and not to mention…money, but it also allows you to add a little extra creativity to your ‘shoot’ and get photos that you would have normally thought only possible in a studio or with a collapsible backdrop.

So, how do we achieve the ‘Black Backdrop’?
Basically what we’re looking to do is to tell the camera to capture no light other than what we introduce in the form of a speedlight flash for example. We don’t want the camera to pick up any of the ambient/natural light at all, and by doing that we have an instant black backdrop.

Now I just want to add that this technique can be done with any camera that has the ability to be put into Manual Mode and has the ability to trigger off camera flash; so that means SLR’s and some pocket cameras such as the Canon G range (G9, G10 and so on…)

There’s only ‘5 Steps’ to it…

1. Put your camera into MANUAL MODE. Yes, now we are in control: Shutter Speed, Aperture, iso…from this point onwards we’re telling the camera what to do as opposed to the camera telling us and giving us the picture it thinks we want.

2. ISO…Set your camera to it’s lowest possible ISO. In laymen’s terms, the iso dictates how sensitive to light your camera’s sensor is i.e a low number like 200 means it’s less sensitive to light whereas a higher number like 1600 means it’s more sensitive to light. On a side note the higher the iso number the more noise/grain can be introduced into your photograph, particularly in the shadow areas. Now, seeing as we’re looking to make a black backdrop we’re not concerned with how sensitive to light the camera is, so we’ll be keeping our iso as low as possible; in my case, my Nikon D3 can go down to 100 which means the camera isn’t very sensitive to light at all and the final picture will be nice and clean with minimal grain/noise.

3. Shutter Speed…Set your camera to its maximum/optimum sync speed. Basically this is the maximum speed that your camera and flash work together ie any faster than this and your camera’s shutter is opening and closing too quickly to allow all the light from your flash to fill the camera’s sensor. Common maximum sync speeds are in the 1/200th of a second to 1/250th of a second. Now although we could quite easily make the scene completely black by going to an incredibly high shutter speed like 1/8000th second the problem with this is that the shutter will open and close so quickly that none of the light from the flash will hit the sensor, so we must stick to the maximum sync speed that our cameras and flashes work ‘together’.

4. Aperture…The final setting on our cameras is the aperture or basically what ‘f’ number we should select. Now, knowing roughly what ‘f’ number to use will become second nature after you’ve done this a few times so the best thing is to choose say, f/5.6 and go from there. Once you’re at this stage take a photo of your subject and see what results you get. The objective here is to see absolutely nothing on your cameras display ie you should see a completely black screen. Now, if you don’t and you’re seeing a bit of the environment then clearly some natural/ambient light is creeping into the scene. So, all we have to do is close down our ‘f’ number a little ie if you’re getting natural/ambient light into the photo at say f/5.6 then try going to f/8.0 and see what that gives you:

5. Bring in the flash…Now we’ve ‘set the scene’ with our camera’s and have a completely black screen, the final phase to this technique is to ‘bring in the flash’. Where you prefer to position your flash and what modifier you use is entirely down to you depending on the look you want to achieve but I find I get great results using a 60″ reflective umbrella. This is a great piece of kit that creates beautiful light but I can also ‘close down’ to control where I want the light to fall and how much etc…

Again experience of having done this a few times will dictate what power level you put the flash on so until that time just pick a power level ie 1/4 power, then take a shot and see what you get. If you want more light then increase the power of the flash in increments until you get what you want. If the light from the flash is too bright then simply lower the power level in increments.

As a rule, Shutter Speed controls Ambient/Natural light and Aperture controls flash power but in this technique once we’ve set both the shutter speed and aperture to give us our black background we really need to leave them well alone and control the power of the flash manually by walking over to (or better still having an assistant) adjust it by hand.

Triggering the flash
As this technique uses ‘off camera’ flash we need to have a way of triggering our flash. I use Pocket Wizards which are the industry standard radio triggers; great pieces if kit, very reliable that work at ridiculous distances, but they do have a price tag to match. However, there are lots of alternative ways to trigger your flash from a simple ‘sync lead’ which forms a physical connection to your camera and flash (with obvious limitations), an infra red trigger, Nikon users can use their ‘Pop-Up’ flashes to trigger another flash using the Nikon CLS (Creative Lighting System) and there’s even budget radio triggers you can get off ebay that seem to work just fine.

In Summary:

1. MANUAL MODE

2. LOWEST ‘ISO’ (200 or lower)

3. MAXIMUM SYNC SPEED (1/250th sec, 1/200th sec etc… depending on your camera)

4. SELECT AN APERTURE (ie f/5.6 as a starting point)

5. BRING IN THE FLASH

So, that quite simply is all there is to it. Now I’ve deliberately not gone into too much technical jargon to explain this because I want this to be a ‘how to’ tutorial as opposed to a ‘why’ but should you wish to know the ins and outs of the technical side I’ll gladly pass on details of books that will cover it all.

A couple of things to note:

1. If you’re using this technique indoors be aware that once you introduce flash, the light might end up bouncing off light coloured walls which will then light the room up and so destroy your black backdrop. My advice when using this technique indoors would be to restrict where the light falls by using such modifiers as a Honl Speed Grid or a Lastolite EzyBox, or ‘close down’ your reflective umbrella.

2. If you’re using Speedlights outside to do this technique you may find that if you’re doing it in the middle of a bright afternoon your cameras aperture (f number) will have to be set so closed down (eg f/22) that your speedlights wont be powerful enough to light the sensor. The answer here is to find a covered/shady area or better still wait for the sun to ease off a little. This technique can be done in the middle of the afternoon on a bright sunny day but that would call for alot more powerful lighting to be used which in turn would cost alot more money.

So what next?

If you have any questions then post them to the comments section…that way others with the same question will get the answers too. Also let me know how you get on…I’d love to see some of the results you come up with, or any challenges you experience and if you get the urge why not leave a comment…any feedback is great and don’t worry, I’ve got broad shoulders.

Enjoy.

In the meantime, here’s a few more examples:

Why not try this technique on ‘still life’ too as in this photograph I took of a Prototype Microphone whilst shooting at the Imperial College, London.

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271 Comments

    • Glyn

      Hi Bernice,

      Thanks for the comment; glad you like the blog.

      Glyn

      Reply
  1. cheryl

    thank you so much for sharing this info.. very very cool.
    thank you.

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hi Cheryl,
      Thanks for that ;o)

      Reply
  2. David Kelly

    Glyn, geez isn’t it simple when you know how! Despite understanding / knowing the science behind this Glynn, I’d never tried this something like this. I guess this is the difference between knowledge & understanding alone vs an appreciation of the application of that knowledge. One of those DOH! moments, I suppose.
    Further to my recipe comments in your post today (10th May) following the workshop tester, I think your summary bullets here are an example of the exact thing I was trying to get across. Listed above you’ve got these few ingredients (shutter speed, aperture, ISO etc) which when added together by following the recipe steps give you the end product of the images you’ve achieved. (Well you might want a little PostP to give it the icing on the cake).
    Now just need to get a reflective brolly….

    Thanks,
    David

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @Dave Kelly…Dave thank you so much for such helpful comments. One thing I am doing is preparing a ‘workbook’ which delegates can take away with them to go through in their own time what we covered during the workshop, but the idea of having ‘recipe cards’ I really like. I’ll definitely look at putting those together because I can see as you say how useful they could be.

      Post Production techniques that I use day to day will also be covered during the day too on a large screen; using Photoshop and Lightroom so if there’s anything you think would be useful to cover other than how I get my end results then that too would be great.

      David, thanks yet again; it’s this kind of interaction through the blog that’s going to really help.
      All the best to you,
      Glyn

      Reply
  3. Lloyd

    Glyn,

    I discovered your website from reading the photopro magazine yesterday and have been unable to draw my eyes away from your website and blog. Your work is fantastic and great to see some helpful hints and tips following the strobist way of photography. Great tutorial here which I tried out at a wedding today, great results!

    Thanks again,

    Lloyd

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Lloyd…Thank you so much for dropping by and for your kind words; I really do appreciate it mate.
      Re the black backdrop tutorial, do you have a link to the results you achieved? Id love to see them 🙂

      Cheers, and thanks again,
      Glyn

      Reply
  4. Derek Anson

    cool. I’m 99% an available light shooter but have used this technique a few times. Really effective as you can see from the examples provided.

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @Derek…Thanks for commenting mate 🙂 Great to ‘hear’ the technique has come in hands on occasion; cheers.

      Reply
  5. Francis Peacocke

    Glyn,
    I was talking and demonstrating this very technique to a camera club last week. Not as well as you have done here. Wish you had done this last week just to help me out. Great tutorial very well laid out and explained as always. More please!

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @Francis…Thanks for the kind words mate and yeah I’ll be posting more in the future. If you have any ideas for things that would be good to cover feel free to email me and I’ll see what I can do.

      Thanks again, Glyn 🙂

      Reply
  6. Nat

    Hi Glyn, you’re a saviour, I’ve always wondered how this could be done and you’ve explained it all in simple words – thank you!! Btw your blog is great, keep it up!!

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @Nat…Hey thanks for the comment; great to hear the post was useful 🙂

      Reply
  7. cjheery

    This is great information, thank you. My question is: can the same effect be done with a strobe light? Sorry, I am totally new to the realm of photography, and I don’t have a camera store in my area. I wasn’t sure whether strobes have sync settings like an off-camera flash.

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @cjheery…Absolutely it can; the process is exactly the same with any ‘off camera’ lighting be it a Speedlight, an Elinchrom Ranger Head etc… There will always be a maximum sync speed you camera and flash can ‘talk’ to each other. Once you know it then all you need to do is set your camera to that speed ie 1/250 second, 1/160 second and so on and if that doesn’t give you a black backdrop you’ll then need to close down your aperture to do so eg f/8.0 to f/11 and so on. Then once you have the black backdrop just bring in the light as normal.

      Hope that helps.

      Reply
  8. cjheery

    Follow-up: I am referring to the invisible black background. Thanks.

    Reply
  9. Colinda

    I am just wondering if you can use the flash attached to your camera, i tried and am not getting very good results, so im thinking it may be because i have to use a off camera flash, could you please let me know thanks, Colinda

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hi Colinda. It’s not ideal to have your flash attached to the camera when doing this technique however it can be done.

      You’ll need to make sure that your camera and flash are in Manual otherwise depending on your make/model then the camera may automatically set the shutter speed to 1/60second which is too slow for this technique. Also having the flash on the camera you’ll have to be extra careful that there is nothing behind your subject that is going to have light hit it from off the flash otherwise you’ll see it.

      Hope that makes sense,
      Glyn

      Reply
  10. Sonia perdomo

    Great instructions! I will give it a try soon!

    Reply
  11. Sonia perdomo

    I wanted to achieve the black background using natural light from a window. I already have a black background, but it is not 100 percent invisible, I normally do newborn photography. Can this effect be achieved using natural light ( no flash at all)? By the way, great blog!

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hi Sonia. The effect or as near as possible could be achieved using natural light to a point but you may find that you’ll have to ‘burn’ down the background in post production/editing to achieve the complete ‘black out’.

      Thanks for the comments re the blog; very kind of you 🙂

      Reply
  12. Sonia perdomo

    Thanks! I have been burning the backgrounds 😉 while editing. I am eager to try this technique and will post a few pics. Thank you for the tutorials, they are of great help

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @Sonia…You’re welcome. I’d love to see some of the results you get so feel free to send me a link if/when you’re able.

      Best wishes, Glyn

      Reply
  13. Michelle Lovegrove

    Have always loved this blog entry and often refer back to it as I have now. I have a boudoir shoot this evening and a quick refresher on this ensures that I can get a moody shot no matter what location I will be faced with.
    Really helps to boost my confidence when walking into an unknown setting.

    Thanks once again Glyn x

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @Michelle…Thanks so much for the comment; it’s great to hear that the tutorial comes in handy 🙂

      Good luck with the shoot,
      Speak soon,
      Glyn x

      Reply
  14. Cea

    Wow..thanks so much for sharing this. I always thought that shots like this can only be achieve with proper studio lights. Can’t wait to try it. Thank you! =)

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hey Cea, glad you like it. Be sure to share some of your results 🙂

      Reply
    • Glyn

      You’re welcome 😉

      Reply
  15. andrew fields

    I have a great time reading and reviewing your post, i really like it and i find it really informative. thank you for sharing this, i thought that shots like this can only be attain through proper studio set up. I really really like it and i’m hoping to try it soon. keep it up!

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hi Andrew. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Great to hear the post was useful; would be great to see how you get on with it if poss.

      All the best to you,
      Glyn

      Reply
  16. Linda

    Hey 🙂

    I came across this page last night, and was really excited to see what could be done without back drops! But I think I must be doing something wrong…

    I am indoors, my aperture is 7, but I have experimented up to 22…

    My shutter speed is on 250, and my ISO is 100.

    I have the 60 inch umbrella with 580EX speedlite II.

    I just can’t get a black background. Is it perhaps because my trigger is the pop up flash? But I am standing very far away, using my camera at 200mm. Hmmmm…

    Can you help please? 🙂

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hi Linda.

      Ok, when using this technique indoors there are a few things to be mindful of such as how close is your light source to the walls in the room? … too close and they will be lit up and also reflect light around plus I see you are using a 60″ umbrella but how are you using it? Shoot through or reflective? For this to work indoors you have to restrict where the light from you speedlight and umbrella can go so ‘close down’ the umbrella as in this walk through, and angle it away from any walls or surfaces that are going to reflect light. No matter what aperture you use, if your light source is too big spreading light all over or you don’t have it closed down so it’s only aiming onto your subject, it won’t make a difference. Are you seeing any light at all at f/22? Your pop up flash, if it’s playing the part of a Commander as in the Nikon CLS, then it won’t play a part in the exposure but if it’s being used to slave your main light then it will be…does that make sense?

      Let me know how you get on,
      Glyn

      Reply
  17. ingetje tadros

    Hi very interesting so you are saying you do NOT use a black backdrop at all????
    where are your workshops?
    I’m in Australia :(-
    cheers ingetje

    Reply
  18. jewelzdezine

    Glyn, That’s amazing that you can get that type of shot in that much light! Thanks for posting. What about strobes? I have Elinchrom 500 BXri and a small battery pack I use for outdoors. Do you think the strobes would be too strong for this type of technique?
    Julie

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hi Julie…All depends how bright it is outside and how narrow your F.Stop i.e. if it was a bright sunny day and you ended up shooting at say 1/250sec and f/22 to get the black background. If the power from your flash is too much even on it’s lowest setting just close down your aperture more; you already have the black background so closing down your aperture is just going to control flash power…should work a treat 🙂 Hope that helps.

      Reply
  19. Jonathan Thompson

    I’m a little late to the party here. Great tutorial Glyn. Looks like you got a lot of folks playing and practicing which is awesome. Catch up soon 🙂

    Reply
  20. matthew Crozer

    Great post, i am gonna try this tonight!

    Reply
  21. sanjib das

    Great tutorial. I tried. Worked fantastic!!!

    Reply
  22. josemanuelerre

    Amazing! I’m starting to use artificial light in my pictures and this (well, every article from this blog) is very very useful :d Thanks for sharing!!!

    Reply
  23. Tim

    So here I am in my makeshift studio for now, it’s Sunday the weather is les than ideal, and I’m trying this idea out in a room that’s really only 5×12 odd meters and this does not make it easy

    Reply
  24. tim

    Ha! result, working in a fairly small room, i at first found it very difficult to maintain the black background and a even exposure on myself(yep had no model, SAm was busy downstairs) at first i used my masive softbox, the realised my mistake in that it was far to large, tried the closed down umbrella, but because the room was small and a creamish wall paper the bounce caused some issue. So to remidy the problem i used a world wide product know to fix any problem, yep duct tape and some cardboard. I needed to control the light overspill and it worked like a charm, even though i said to you i did not think it would work i can be a little stuburn at times so worked on it till it did.
    So here is a link to my album from the photos i did today

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150674878426834.451682.634306833&type=1&l=5940df9b76

    Once id gotten the background right i was underexposed but as i powered up the flash so the overspill would inclrease, moving the light closer, dropping the power again and eventually i got it right 247 photos later, but did learn alot so the next time should be much faster and almost spot on from the begining.

    Thanks for giving me something to do this afternoon.
    Tim

    Reply
  25. Britt

    Is there a way to do this with the flash connected to the hot shoe if you don’t have a transmitter or receiver?

    Reply
  26. Miguel Campos

    It’s a very cool technique!
    I have used that one a couple of weeks ago in one of my London Photowalks and I decided to shoot a Flower using that technique, and it’s so amazing that I’ve sent a Print to USA 🙂
    Thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge!

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @Miguel…You’re welcome; thanks for that 🙂

      Reply
  27. Ted

    Thanks for a new tool for the box! I look fwd to playing with it TODAY.

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @Ted…You’re welcome mate; enjoy

      Reply
  28. Teresa

    I have been looking for a “learning site”. Thank you.

    Reply
  29. wallygaw

    Hi, great tip Glyn.

    As the commenter Tim said, moving the light source closer to the subject will help a lot.

    Especially in alleviating the problem with using this technique outdoors when it is a very bright day.

    If the photographer is reminded of the ‘inverse square law’ regarding light, IE, ‘light falls off/increases with the square of the distance’.

    An example, moving the light closer by 1/2 the light to subject distance increases the strength of the light by a factor of 4x.

    Reply
  30. Todd

    AWESOME! Thanks for the education!

    Reply
  31. Alex

    What a fantastic blog post. Your explanations of the exposure triangle were brief, but just enough to make this “newbie friendly.”

    In my Gimp Tutorials I frequently talk about “shooting for the edits,” that being the importance of taking good shots that are photo-editing friendly. You have done just that with this technique.

    You could even adjust your F just a little bit to give a slight background, and a very bright subject. They would really stick out if you did that!

    Reply
  32. Gina In Vista CA

    I’m a wannabe photographer. I appreciate your describing this in simple terms. I want to learn and get better but so often people make this stuff too darn technical and I’m just not there yet. Thanks

    Reply
  33. Debbie

    wonderful, I have a really posh camera which my hubby bought as a gift for me, other than point and click I have never being able to to use it, so going to keep your blogs and give your internet workshops a go, at least I can understand what you are saying as you use normal every day words, oh and show picture instruction too.
    thank you me dear.

    Reply
  34. Sotiris

    Excellent technique idea and tutorial, thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  35. Cofa

    Excellent article! Very well written as all steps are clearly explained. I am not expert but the steps are easily understood to me. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Glyn

      So good to read that this has been of interest to you folks. Thanks so much for taking the time to post comments 😉

      Reply
  36. Salman Ahmad

    This is great. The way you explained it made me feel kinna dumb as i always wondered how do photographers do this awesome black background.
    Nice to learn from you and thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  37. Jenn

    Very useful, and clearly explained. Thanks!

    Reply
  38. David Lunt

    This is a great how to post! I use OCF a lot but have been relying on TTL and just starting to venture into manual so I can do things like this. I was basically trying to do this last night and didn’t pull it off. Now I know how to do it. Thanks!

    Reply
  39. Kurt F.

    Thank you SOOOOO much for sharing this! This totally made my day. 🙂

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Guys it’s so good to see this kind of feedback. Be sure to let me know how you get on and if you have any Q’s be sure to drop me a line 😉

      Reply
  40. Colin Spencer

    Thanks for a great article. I will be posting a link back to it from my blog.

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Cheers Colin 😉

      Reply
  41. Dave

    I can’t seem to get it right without a dark background. Does the flash need to fire or is it continuous lighting that one needs. I tend to still get my background lit up. Please help!

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hey Dave, questions for you…

      *Are you doing this indoors?
      *If yes, what modifier are you using to restrict the light from the flash lighting everything up?
      *Have you set the scene i.e. made everything black before you use your flash?

      Let me know mate and we’ll sort it.
      Glyn

      Reply
  42. Owen Glendower

    Good article. Found it linked on Photocamel.

    http://photocamel.com/forum/photography-talk/158014-black-background.html#post1567449

    Glyn, I think that many people have almost achieved this black-background effect by accident. I’m sure that we’ve all used our on-camera flash to take pictures of friends at an indoor party. Our friends come out perfectly exposed, most likely, but you can hardly see anything in the background.

    Reply
  43. Lydia Button

    I’ve been trying to get this same effect. Just one problem: When I set my aperture to F.8, my camera automatically won’t let me use a 1/250 shutter speed. AGGH! I have all settings on manual.

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Lydia…Do you have your flash on-camera and is your flash in manual also?

      Reply
  44. georg

    Very interesting. Why not doing this in the post production?

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Georg…Lots of reasons and the first being ‘Why?’ When it can take literally seconds to shoot I wouldn’t even think about spending time doing it in PS; and that’s coming from someone who loves working in PS. I’m also a photographer.

      Reply
  45. RicardoC

    I read a lot about lighting techniques to try to learn a little bit… And I’ll be honest… Most practical, useful and easy tutorial ever! I nailed a nice picture on my very first try! Loved it!

    Reply
    • Glyn

      That’s great to hear Doug; thanks for that 🙂

      Reply
  46. Dennis

    Wow, super thanks for the great tips, greetings from the Netherlands

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Greetings Dennis 🙂

      Reply
  47. John

    Hey Glyn, just wondering if this technique works using continous light? New to photography. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hi John,
      It’s certainly possible to take a portrait in a dark area if you had a strong bit of directional light coming in such as string sunlight through a small window but it certainly doesn’t offer the flexibility of this technique. To be honest the time it takes to do this technique you could be rattling of a whole series of shots before being 100% happy with the natural light scenario. Hope that makes sense 😉

      Reply
  48. Matt

    Hiya. Great post. I’ve been trying it out and need to ask for some help.

    I black out the scene but I always seems to get some of the background in it when the flash fires. I think this is because it’s spreading the light at such a wide angle. Will the speed grid pretty much solve this? And will the speed grid work for outdoor use as well or do you pretty much need an umbrella that you can close down to focus the light?

    Also, how far is your subject from objects in the background? It appears to be a few feet in front of the background objects in some of the examples and right against the background in others (i.e. the man reading a book by the bookcase). It would seem that if the subject is right against the background, then the background will show up when the flash fires. Again, does the speed grid or an umbrella prevent this from happening?

    Hopefully my questions made sense, and thanks for the help.

    Reply
  49. Rajesh Sharda

    Gr8

    Reply
  50. Alan Milan

    Very informative and practical as well

    Reply
  51. Matt

    Hi again. I commented a couple of days ago asking for some help.

    Well, right after I commented I went ahead and ordered a speed grid. I figured since it was only 13 USD it couldn’t hurt. I got it the next day and started playing around with it. Cutting to the chase, it helped out immensely. I didn’t realize how big of an area the light from my flash spread out in. Now I can keep the background dark and only illuminate the subject way easier.

    So, thanks again for sharing this technique, even though this is two years later from when you first posted it.

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hey Matt, thats’ great to hear…thanks for posting 🙂

      Reply
  52. Bob Tan

    Thank you….yes it remind me ….cant wait to try again

    Reply
  53. M B A Khan

    Thanks Glyn… very informative!

    Reply
  54. Robug Image

    Hi there, great article. Can this technique be modified by using an “on camera” flash?

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Sure thing but might need to put something between the hotshoe and the connectors as you may find the camera will lock down at a certain sync speed such as 1/60sec.
      Hope that helps,
      Glyn

      Reply
  55. stanisław żółczyński

    Good idea. But what about this technic in full sunlight. As we remember there`s sunny 16/22 rule. This implies that shutter speed equals ISO. Thus on the beach we have at 200 ISO 1/200sec and f:22. Now to make the background go you need some 2-3 stops underexposure. You would need a 8ND or 16ND filter to achieve it and still you are left with f:22, not the best aperture quality like (diffraction). Well, leaf shutter can help as traditionally they sync up to 1/500sec, while my Ricoh GXR with A12 28 and 50 units sync up to 1/3200sec!

    Reply
  56. Gabriel

    Just discovered this technique while photographing an event today and I definitely will make very good use of it and try it out.

    Reply
  57. Lewis Romane

    Hi

    Im going to try your invisable back drop later this evening i as wondering if you do courses, check out my site, i get some good results, but not really sure what im doing!!

    Lewis Romane

    Reply
  58. Wedding Photographer

    I am a Wedding Photographer in Nottingham and I think your tutorial is fantastic, I’ve tried a few of the shots which I will have to up load to see what you think, thanks again, this has made Wedding Photography so much easier, I hope to compete with the other Wedding Photographers now!

    Lewis

    Reply
  59. Prashant

    Very informative blog and Thanks Glyn for sharing this information.

    Reply
  60. Digital_Animal

    I have a question about triggerind an ext flash, my equipment is:
    canon600D
    canon 270 EX II

    so my camera is wireless and I can trigger the 270 EX II that I put in an umbrella via pop-up flash, but I’m wondering if the light that comes from the popup flash would ruin and waste the light that comes from the ext flash

    Reply
  61. Kallie

    I just did this with my Canon T2I, and it worked! What I found was that it only works with an object that is focused up close and not one that is zoomed out. I used the settings specified on this page. I have not experimented with other settings, but I was pretty impressed on how easy this was. Again, it has to be focused on something fairly up close, but it does work! Thank you!!

    Reply
  62. Digital_Animal

    @Kallie,
    did you use an umbrella?
    wich flashgun?

    Reply
  63. Brett

    Nice technique. Have you considered a hair or back light to create seperation between the subject and black background?

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hi Brett thanks for that. As for a hair light…no mate…this is how I like the pictures to look plus adding a hair light is what a lot of people might do.
      Glyn

      Reply
  64. kathy p

    Hi! Thank you for this fantastic tutorial… I am told the shot I am setting up is going to be quite difficult — even for a professional (which I am not) — so this will come in handy. I am wondering if you would have any other suggestions.

    I am trying to shoot a blonde, fair – ruddy skinned teenager, wearing all black sitting at a black baby grand piano. Of course, this is indoors (wall colors are bluish) I have some natural light from a window about 10 feet away. The hope is to capture the boy as well as (hopefully) get some of his reflection in the piano.

    I shoot with Nikon (D7000), manual & RAW. I have a little external flash that works with my camera but I don’t even know how to use it… Honestly, I almost always use natural light.

    Any other tips?

    Reply
  65. Nohemi

    If I were attempting this, would a strip box work with a grid in an indoor setting? Should I steer away from a larger strip box? Just wondering would love to try and recreate this effect on some of my indoor boudoir sessions

    Great tutorial by the way 🙂

    Reply
  66. Declan

    Hi, do i need that separate flash on the umbrella for this to work?

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Declan, so long as you can direct the light as opposed to having it spill everywhere then you can use just about anything; however the umbrella I found to be the cheapest and most adaptable piece of kit to use for this.
      Hope that helps,
      Glyn

      Reply
    • Glyn

      Declan…That way works best for me mate

      Reply
  67. Carley

    Gave it a go with both flash umbrella & continuous lighting umbrella, works for smaller objects but with people or bigger subjects, just wasn’t cutting out the background.
    Tried this indoors.

    Thanks anyway, will have to just keep playing around or get a soft box & do it the simple way lol.

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Carly, you do have to restrict the light spill when doing this indoors otherwise it will naturally reflect off walls etc. when using an umbrella just close it down so that it turns into a soft box and directs the light more. No need to buy a soft box for this, and yeah it does work on people indoors too as I use it a lot.

      Glyn

      Reply
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  69. lizzie

    Best tutorial on ‘darkened’ background I’ve seen.I just need to practice this again and again, especially with the flash and the flash trigger. can i use my radio wave receiver/transmitter to trigger the flash?

    Question – just to show u how technically challenged I am: after you do all the settings – shutter speed, aperture, iso, do you press the shutter release and take a shot before introducing the flash? or do you just do the settings and go ahead and add flash?

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hi Lizzie…Thanks so much for your comment 🙂
      Ok as for your questions, yeah any way of triggering the flash will work and as for when you take the shot, just put all the settings in and then take your shot with the flash 😉

      Glyn

      Reply
  70. carlene

    Please help. Trying the black background. I can get all the settings right but as soon as I press the button to bring in the flash it alters all my settings. Im using the Sony a350. Any ideas???

    Reply
  71. carlene

    Please help. Trying the black background. I can get all the settings right but as soon as I press the button to bring in the flash it alters all my settings. Im using the Sony a350. Any ideas???

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hi Carlene…Can I cofirm that you’re shooting in Manual Mode? If you are then nothing should change at all as you’re taking control of everything. Let me know.

      Glyn

      Reply
    • Glyn

      Hi Carlene…Can I confirm that you’re shooting in Manual Mode? If you are then nothing should change at all as you’re taking control of everything. Let me know.

      Glyn

      Reply
  72. Ronny

    “The Invisible Black Backdrop – Photography Technique – Glyn Dewis” was indeed a
    very good blog. If it included much more pix this should be possibly even more effective.

    Regards -Ashley

    Reply
  73. hez

    Glyn,

    I tried this technique and the background was bright oe well exposed. I used my D 300 S in the manual mode, set my ISO at 250 using a SB 8oo speedlight and the f stops were F 5.6 and 8. I was about 4 ft from my subject.

    What can I do different?

    Thanks,
    Chez

    Reply
    • Glyn

      hez…CLose down your Aperture so try f/11, f/16 and give that a go. Glyn

      Reply
  74. Deanna

    Glyn, great tutorial but I am a bit confused. I am using a Nikon D80 with speedlight sb600 with all the settings you recommended. From reading all the comments it seems I need a speed grid or closed down umbrella, is that correct? How far away should my speedlight be from person and my camera be from person? I want to shoot parts of a newborn like just their feet and have the rest fade to away in the background to black.

    Reply
  75. Ruud

    I cannot seem to get this to work. I use a Nikon D7000. Whether or not I am inside or outside I always have the background showing up. I have used different lenses to try this.

    With the background 20 meters away, I even get some of that in the picture with f22 and a shutter speed of 1/320. My camera is certainly in manual mode and setup to be the master (since I use Nikon with an external SB-700).

    I have reduced the power of both flashes to a minimum, but I still get a visible background. I don’t get it.

    Any ideas what I am doing wrong?

    Reply
  76. Lewis Romane

    Rhudd whats your ISO at mate and have you tried towards the end of the day in the afternoon

    Reply
  77. Ruud

    My iso is at 100

    Reply
  78. Eljer

    Hi Glyn

    Am new of this SLR canon D600,I would your advice if how I can take black round photo using this canon d 600?and what is the set up?

    Reply
  79. Theo Leinad

    Hey, I´m preparing a powerpoint presentation to show low key and high key, It’s tomorrow, so I don’t have enough time to ask you for permission.
    Since this is a tutorial and illustrative information (non-commercial purposes) I’m going to borrow the before and after image, as well, I’m providing the link and giving the credits.
    I hope you don’t go crazy 😛

    darkfalco@gmail.com

    just in case.

    Reply
  80. fionna sturgeon

    i have to take photos of models for a hair/beauty thing at the school i lecture at (i am a painter and art historian but they think we do photography too!)
    we are shooting inside
    they are dolled up to the max
    i have no plain background – just a sticky outback australia pub floor
    will this technique work for that?
    what if i put a flash thing over their head to light their hairstyle as its a hair show.
    i am in a state of high anxiety over it.
    ADORE you no black background images. you are an artist – they are so caravaggio!
    fifi
    geraldton WA

    Reply
  81. ingrid.it

    It’a a great tutorial for black backdrop! What about translating in Italian language too?

    Reply
  82. Mithun Chakrabarty

    your invisible black background technique is really great but can u please suggest if i want the same application without flash umbrella what will the instructions.i’v only my camera build flash available so,what will be the settings for the same quality photo shoot in black back drop techniques.please reply
    regards

    Reply
  83. Bob Hauver

    Using Nikon D5100 and Vivitar DF-383-NIK flash set on TTL and have some questions. After setting the camera to your suggestions, I do not get a black screen. Should I see a black screen in the viewfinder? To get some black background I have set my shutter at 320 or 400, with aperture at f22. I’ve tried several settings and can’t get anything close to your images. Appreciate your advice.

    Reply
  84. Andy Wills

    @Bob Hauver try putting your flash in manual mode. Start at about 1/4 output setting. Working with TTL means that your camera is trying to “adjust” to get (what it thinks) is the correct exposure, regardless of what you you are trying to achieve!

    Reply
  85. Andy Wills

    @Mithun Chakrabarty – seriously you need it invest in at least 1 off camera flash and/or cable (I say cable (TTL) as that is cheaper than a remote trigger. There is very little scope for creativity when you use either the pop up flash or leave the flash on the camera hotshoe.

    Reply
  86. Steve

    very nice. can’t wait to try it!

    Reply
  87. Nash

    What if Im just using my built-in flash? what is the right distance and f?

    Reply
  88. Bambit Gaerlan

    After 2 test shots, success!

    My settings: Details: 50mm 1.8 @ f/10, 1/125, ISO100. Under the mango tree in our backyard, standing about 2 meters away from the wall. Reflective umbrella half open, YN460MII flashgun on full, Commander Mode on the Nikon D7000.

    Thank you for this wonderful tutorial! 🙂

    Reply
  89. Jere

    Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article.

    I’ll be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful info. Thanks for the post. I will definitely comeback.

    Reply
  90. Sherri

    That was really easy to understand, thanks so much!! I’m book marking this site and will be using it often! 😀

    Reply
  91. Lucas

    Hello!
    I’m a beginner and I wanted to know if it is possible to obtain
    such results with a normal “on board” flash. My camera is a pentax K-10, the maximum sync speed between the flash and the shutter is 1/250.
    I tried indoor with very poor results, by far.. 🙁

    Thanks for the help!

    Reply
  92. Mark

    Hi Glyn! I really love this kinda of photography and have tried this technique several times, but have always ended up doing some post processing in lightroom or pse to help keep dark areas dark and maybe bring out areas that I want lit. Do you have to do any post-processing like this, or am I simply missing something in my technique?

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Mark there’ll always be something I do in post production even if it’s enhancing the highlights or tweeking the shadow areas so yeah 🙂

      Reply
  93. srinath

    thanks for the tips glyn. Is this invisible black drop possible in eos 60d??

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @srinath…Sure thing; possible with most if not all cameras.

      Reply
  94. Steve

    Glyn, I’m a beginner with two quick questions:
    First, I have a basic lighting kit on the way (2 light boxes, 2 light umbrellas & 3 mylar backgrounds. Very basic $130 for everything) and want to know if I can achieve this effect using a non flashing light and, if so, how would I alter the shot?

    Second, I notice a lot of these types of pics have a very gritty, harsh contrast making the subject (generally older men) seem very weathered and stoic. It may be referred to as black and white grunge as well. I believe this is a post processing effect but am not sure. Can you please give any pointers you might have on achieving that effect?

    Thank you for the post, it was written so clearly that a brand new hobbyist photographer could follow it!

    Steve

    Reply
  95. Jeff Dowell

    Anyone try this technique with Yongnuo brand Flashes/transceivers?

    I’m thinking of buying pocket wizard plus III’s, but have been reading a lot about this brand as a cheaper alternative.

    Reply
  96. Kam

    I am trying to do this with my camera (Nikon D3100) ISO is at 100; the rest is at f/5.6 and 1/250.
    but it wont work. i use the flash and parts of the background will still light up. why is that?

    Reply
  97. lewis

    Kam increase f number and take pics without flash until it goes black then introduce flash

    Reply
  98. Nikki

    Hello Glyn,
    I am committed to mastering your technique! I love it! Would you mind if I asked specifically which umbrella you used? And I would love any information to study further into this tecnique.

    Nikki

    Reply
  99. Liz Rose

    I want to do a shot of a basketball team with the hardwood floor showing but I want the background to be dark. How do I go about doing this with a group of 14 boys? Thank u

    Liz Rose

    Reply
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  101. Nikki

    Please never mind my previous post I have an umbrella and plan to go out tomorrow and give it try. I am however still interested in more of the technical aspects of it.
    Thanks for the tutorial!

    Reply
  102. Ross Andress

    Nikon d3100 and D3200 have max sync speed 02 1/200

    Reply
  103. Pashminu Mansukhani

    Very easy to follow post. Will the same technique work with a flash gun mounted on the camera?

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Sure thing but it won’t offer so many opportunities for positioning where the light falls on you subject.
      Glyn

      Reply
  104. Photo Don

    Wow this is really cool. I think you’ve made it really easy to understand. So am I right in thinking that aperture basically controls the amount of ambient light that appears in your photo? Thanks for sharing. Don

    Reply
    • Glyn

      The shutter speed controls the ambient and the aperture controls the flash however if when you’re at the max sync speed and there’s still ambient then yeah you’ll need to use aperture too. Hope that helps.

      Reply
  105. Aayush

    Hi Glyn
    does this technique require us to have a reflective umbrella ?

    Reply
    • Glyn

      No, any light modifier where you can direct the light source will be great for this.

      Glyn

      Reply
  106. Micah

    Great stuff, thank you!

    Reply
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  113. Massiel

    Ca n I achieve the same effect using the umbrella but with continuous lighting instead of flash?

    Reply
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  119. Janet

    Glyn,

    I used your technique and was instantly thrilled. I didn’t use any other settings for approximately six months with an old Speedotron Brownline unit. My photos were excellent. Long story short, the Speedotron blew up and was replaced with three Einstein E640’s. Ever since, I can’t get your technique to work. I did exactly what I did with the Speedotron, which is to close the umbrellas and use ISO 100, speed 1/250 and aperture 5.6 or less. I’ve made certain that the light isn’t bouncing off other surfaces in the room. No matter what, all I get is a huge blast of light with a light, rather than dark background, and not enough light on the subject. It’s opposite of what worked previously. I’ve tried various settings on the Einsteins, but can’t get anything to work. Your help will be greatly appreciated, as I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong for months. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Janet, do you have a black background with those settings without having the flash turned on? Really surprised you’re only using f/5.6 to get a dark background as I’m usually up at f/11.0 and narrower.

      Glyn

      Reply
  120. Janet

    Glyn,

    Thanks for such a speedy reply! To digress for a moment, when I was using the Speedotron set, I skipped over everything you said about getting a black background and then bringing in the lights. Rather, I went directly to closing down the umbrellas, putting the ISO at 100, speed at 1/250 and the aperture on a low number and, VOILA – my photos were out of this world. Occasionally, I had to tweak the settings a little bit while photographing, or tweak the photo slightly in Photoshop but, overall, my photos were unbelievable. Moving forward to today, I need a bit of clarification, please. When you say to set up the entirely black background first, does that mean I am supposed to use the camera without any flash whatsoever, including its own built-in flash? I turned off the Einsteins and played around with this option. No matter what I did to the ISO, speed and aperture settings, the background was pretty much black. It wasn’t ink black, but it was very dark and the color was black. FYI, I’m using grey photo paper as my backdrop. The room is fairly dark. Thank you!

    Reply
  121. Michael

    Can’t say I had much success with the technique, so I wanted to run my setup by you and ask for some help. I suspect I just don’t have enough power in the speedlight to light the subject.

    I’m shooting with an x-t1, 56mm and a Yongnuo 560 III mounted into a 43″ studio brolly box umbrella. I’m using a pair of Yongnuo RF-603s to trigger the flash. Camera is set at L (ASA) or 200, with shutter speed set at 180 (maximum sync speed). However, maximum sync speed on the flash unit is only 128.

    The image is barely illuminated using these parameters. Nothing anywhere near your beautiful shots. Any suggestions?

    Reply
  122. Tina

    Hi Glyn, a few questions: is there any substitutes we can use in this technique instead of the flash and the parabolic umbrella? What would you recommend?

    Reply
  123. Bill

    Glyn, if you teach as you write, you will be (are) very successful. Thanks; I’m photographing my work for woodworking magazine articles I write, they want uncluttered backgrounds. If you saw my shop you would know why I need your technique!

    Reply
  124. Adam

    Hey Glyn I have a Nikon d610 and im using a Sigma 105mm Macro lens

    Will this technique work with a single elinchrom brx500 strobe flash or is two more ideal?

    How should i set them up?

    Will these be too bright?

    Reply
  125. Adam

    What Focus should i use AF-C AF-S?
    also which metering do you use spot/matrix etc…?

    WHat flash setting background fill etc…

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Adam…So many questions. My suggestion is to just try it and see; experimenting it how and where you’ll find this stuff out.
      Glyn

      Reply
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  127. priya

    Thanks for sharing!
    Is an external flash absolutely essential to this exercise?
    Is there a way to achieve similar results using the in built flash?

    Reply
    • Glyn

      It could be done yes but the results wouldn’t look quite the same

      Reply
  128. Kendrick

    Would this technique work with a continuous light?

    Reply
  129. Greg

    Tina, did you get an answer about alternate technique with no umbrella. I am going to try this with the Nikon d810.

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  131. jordi

    Hi, can i use 2-1 reflective umbrella in this technique? Like convertible umbrella with white cloth then silver reflective?

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  132. bianca

    so what if you only have a sync cord not a wireless trigger will this process still work?? i know the distance may take an affect

    Reply
  133. bianca

    will a regular white umbrella be useful? i see alot of these post have that shiny metal color does it matter??

    Reply
  134. Sarah Spears

    Is there a way to do this without an off camera flash? My camera doesn’t have a way to work with one of those and I really want to try this method.

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hi Sarah
      It works best with off camera flash but it’s worth trying with the on-camera for sure. Just be aware of light bouncing off objects and spilling into the scene and also try to add some direction to the light with a modifier of some kind eg those from Rogue etc…
      Glyn

      Reply
  135. Ishan Koul

    i am having the sony dsc- w800…will it be able to captue images with this technique? n how to set the aperature and max sync speed?

    Reply
  136. Nick Tarbox

    I am having trouble, my first attempts get the scene completely black but as soon as the flash fires the room lights up. I have set my camera and speedlite to the exact settings but the flash just kills the black background as soon as it goes off.

    Reply
    • Aneta Klosek

      I have been able to see the images clearly once i have put them on my pc and worked on them with photoshop.
      The settings do actually work, you only have to “enhance” them a bit in ps and it’s difficult to see them in the preview screen of your camera

      Reply
    • Hamid Rastin

      Make sure you light up your subject from sides so that no light is spilled on whatever it is at the back of your subject

      Reply
  137. Grant Baxter

    Hello,

    So i am wanting to try to achieve this with a large group as its a quick and relatively simple process so say, i have only just recently started using a external which is the Speedlite JY620. when i set my camera to iso 100 and F16 (image is blacked out at the F stop ) i set the flash gun to what i believe the maximum of 1/128. After taking the shot i still get the background showing?

    Cant understand what i am doing wrong? can anyone help?

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Grant, you’ll need more power from your flash than 1/128; try going up to around 1/2 power

      Reply
    • Les Dishman

      1/128 is the lowest power setting on your flash. 1/1 is full power. Using this technique to light large groups of people will be a bit more challenging.

      Reply
  138. Vinicius Mimão

    Very good technique! I never imagine use an umbrella like that! It´s so simple and so dramatic lighting shape, that I will use every time is possible!
    thank you for sharing this!

    Reply
  139. pixelgecko

    will this work with a light box, or is an umbrella the secret to the trick?

    edit: never mind – i saw that one of the recommended light modifiers was a lightbox! duh. 🙂

    Reply
    • Les Dishman

      Any camera – any camera – that can go full manual can achieve this effect.

      Reply
  140. Michael Graham

    I am using a Nikon D800 and can’t step down the camera enough to black out the picture before bringing in the flash. I have set the camera to f16, ISO: 100, and 1/250 sync but still get background on an overcast day. Since f16 is my smallest aperture I am not certain what else to do. Obviously 1/250 is not that fast and it would help to be able to go beyond the standard flash limit. Do you have any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Hamid Rastin

      D800 supports highspeed sync, so if you have a flash that supports high sync you can go well beyond 1/200 shutter speed to get the scene black.

      Reply
  141. Maggie Moore

    If I am trying to do this at night with a long exposure to capture “light streaks” on a black background, would I go about using this same method?

    Reply
  142. Francesca Ferrario

    Hi,
    I tried following your instructions, in mylittle studio ( so not outside), But everytime flash lgihtens everything not only the subject but also the walls or everything behind. The only differences between your photos shown up here is that my flash was mounted on the camera, since I still don’t have a trigger.
    May it be the cause of my failures, or may it be in the distance between the object, the wall behind the camera and the flash?
    Hope to hear from you very soon,
    I wish you a wonderful happy sweet day and thanks for your tutorial! :))

    My best regards,
    Francesca from italy

    Reply
    • Ralph

      It doesn’t work with the flash on the camera. As you can see from the examples, the flash is always at an angle so it won’t light the background. With the flash on your camera, it will not only light the subject but also the background. The only way to do this, I think, with on board flash is the have the background really really far way and don’t have the ground in shot.

      Reply
      • Francesca Ferrario

        oh, ok!! thanks so much for your kind answer Ralph!! :)) I try to put it aside… hope it will work! 😉 Have a funny and sweet day!! :)) :)) :))

        Reply
  143. Ashutosh

    Can i use my nikon D5200’s in built flash to achieve the same result ?

    Reply
    • Thomas Moran

      Nope, needs to be off camera.

      Not only that, but the flash can’t light up any of the background, which means it either needs to be pointing slightly towards the camera, or you need to shade the side of with something like the ‘rouge flashbender’.

      If you don’t have a flashgun, or the cash for one, grab a yongau off ebay. it’ll do all you want it to do

      Reply
  144. Marie-Christine Robinson

    thanks so much. After much searching I finally found the answer. Thanks again

    Reply
  145. Rod

    I am still having trouble achieving a total black background. Would a ND filter help. F stop at max f22, iso 100. Subject light good but still some background. Inside and outside. I am using a Canon 60D which only fires the slave when inbuilt flash is working,

    Reply
  146. Lauren Ashe

    Would this work with continuous lighting such as a fresnel on a stand or must one use a flash?

    Reply
  147. Katrina Russell Flaws

    Can i use a reflector in the opposite side to bounce a bit more light to the dark side and still keep a black background? Will be using setup in a gym

    Reply
    • Glyn Dewis

      Absolutely…so long as the reflector isn’t aimed toward a nearby wall etc… to avoid lighting that up also.

      Reply
  148. Wayne Leifert

    Success – I don’t have an umbrella or a DSLR, HOWEVER I have an Olympus TG-4, I set the aperture to 8.0, 1/30 & ISO200, internal flash. I took the shot of myself (on timer) outside, at night (it was 41oC !! very hot) and it was beautiful (not me!, the shot!) – see my portrait pic 🙂

    Reply
  149. sarni

    Having trouble. Canon Eos T6 – ISO 100, 1/200, F16 through to F22. Yongnuo Speedlite 560 IV
    Can’t seem to get the 2 to sync. Can achieve the black initially but then try too take the shot and external flash goes off before the picture take
    What am I doing wrong?? Fairly new to photography. Thanks

    Reply
  150. Deborah Wilson

    can this be used with continuous lighting stands ?

    Reply
  151. Optimus_past_my_Prime

    Would this be at all possible to achieve if only using the cameras built in flash? There would be obvious limitations as to how the light will hit the subject but would the built in flash possess the capability to produce the same results?

    Reply
    • Jim Houlbrook

      I would think you would have to have the subject quite far from the backdrop not to end up with lots of light splashing on the backdrop, but might be possible.

      Reply
      • Optimus_past_my_Prime

        I tried this method and the results were less than stellar. The backdrop needs to be incredibly well lit to avoid having the flash bounce off of it.

        Reply
        • Glyn

          Don’t understand what you’re saying here I’m afraid…”The backdrop needs to be incredibly well lit to avoid having the flash bounce off of it” ? If the backdrop is lit then it’s not going to be black which is what we’re after. What colour is your backdrop and how close is it? If you move the subject away from the backdrop light will fall off quickly and not light it up (Inverse Square Law) however if you’re in such a small space that light is bouncing around then that just means you need to control the light more with the modifier you are using i.e. a grid, if an umbrella then close it down a bit.

          The technique works a treat but only if you think about where the light is going. If you’re outside then that doesn’t matter but if you’re inside you of course need to think about reflection and light bounce.

          Reply
    • Brian E. Forschner

      I am getting no picture at all, black. Set at ISO 100, f4.5, speed 320 flash at 1.0

      Reply
      • Jason

        Because you’re past your flash sync speed. back it off to 1/250 or 1/200, or whatever your camera’s flash sync speed is.

        Reply
  152. Toddlie Devan

    Hello I to had the same question if another but did not see any reply. I’m getting a new camera as to not use my iPhone because of the lack of an f-stop and really find this technique useful for what I would be taking pictures of, a watch, but can I achieve this with just using my cameras built in flash?

    Reply
  153. Chachu

    Help me a lot as I am new in this field. I am very happy with the fully black background portrait photos which I did try now. I think now I can do more. Thanks.

    Reply
  154. Laurie Cataldo-Fuchs

    I couldn’t figure out were all these settings were. Guess it’s back a few steps.

    Reply
  155. Jim Houlbrook

    This was actually taken outdoors in natural light with no flash. It’s a captive eagle and the place where it sits when not out flying has a shaded area. Lining up with the shaded area behind it gets the shot 90% there and then some adjustments in lightroom and job done. Not realy part of the challenge as I’m bending the intent quite a bit with the way it’s done, but thought people might find it interesting.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3136d56a0b2b0158dc15b63f102d1e30d9ca0450fbcbd350c43c38cb2dec37b7.jpg

    Reply
    • Ken Gary

      That is an awesome shot.

      Reply
      • Jim Houlbrook

        Thanks Ken

        Reply
    • Dale Bracey

      Dang! Beautiful. Yes, very awesome shot. Hey… it got the job done either way.

      Reply
  156. purplebuslady

    Pretty please post a pic of the set up – camera, subject, flash, modifiers. Thanks

    Reply
  157. purplebuslady

    Problem solved with Rogue flashbender 2!

    Reply
  158. Adam Kaan

    Thanks for this dude!

    Reply
    • Glyn Dewis

      No worries 😉

      Reply
  159. Ken Gary

    I wasn’t quite getting it and switched to a larger zoom lens. I’m not a pro so I have no idea if that was what got it for me, but my apple atop a can of corn looked great with a complete blacked out background.

    Reply
  160. Владимир Прецеп

    Just started with photography and I´m using Flash for like 2 weeks or so… Which Settings should I use?

    Reply
  161. A Will

    Is it possible to do this with continuous lighting?

    Reply
  162. Yeahno

    Hi there, I’m actually looking to buy my first off camera flash just to play with this very method. How powerful does the flash need to be? I’d imagine if it’s not powerful enough it won’t be able to overpower the sun’s light, etc so I want to make sure it’s able to meet atleast minimum standards.

    Reply
  163. contoh laporan kuliah kerja lapangan

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    Reply
  164. greg

    do you need to use an external flash? my nikon d5100 has a flash on the camera? will that work for taking pictures of small inanimate objects outside?

    Reply
    • Bee

      Won’t help much if u r using the camera flash .this technique works with off camera flash

      Reply
  165. Gareth

    I achieved this effect once a few years back, completely by accident, and never managed to re-create it. Very pleased to have found a guide on how to do it again. I was using a Nikon D40 with bog-standard external flash and 50mm prime lens.

    Reply
  166. christopher

    Hi tried this, used 250th sec shutter speed and max aperture of F22 and min 100 iso
    centre weighted auto focus. 50mm /200mm zoom. D3100 Nikon

    Without flash difficult to get full black exposure, slight detail stil present.
    Daylight overcast in garden.
    Please advise.

    Reply
  167. Anne Henry

    Very clearly expained with no nonsense unnecessary jargon.

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Thank you Anne
      Best wishes
      Glyn

      Reply
  168. Linda Morgan

    Hello! I just would like to give a huge thumbs up for the great info you have here on The Invisible Black Backdrop – Photography Technique post. I will be coming back to your blog for more soon.

    Reply
  169. Vinod

    If your max sync speed of cam is 1/200 set shutter speed of cam at 1/160 . If max sync speed of cam is 1/250 set shutter speed of cam at 1/200. The flash should then sync perfectly. Give it a try

    Reply
  170. Laura

    camera setting. but what setting for flash?

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Whatever it needs to be. Put it on a certain power and take a shot. If you need more then increase it…if you need less then decrease it.

      Reply
  171. Laura

    I follow your instruction and I could not get black background. I still see background. What is your suggestion to adjust? I have Canon 5DIII.

    Reply
    • Laura

      I forget mention that I use 85mm lens.

      Reply
  172. Joe

    I’ve tried this indoors using a speed light and 43” umbrella closed down, still getting splash on the wall behind my subject. Tried moving the subject away but I’m not getting the right light effect. Where am I going wrong

    Reply
  173. Byron

    I’ve used this with a Nikon D750 and an old SB600 flash. After some tweaking, it works very well. Thanks! I’ve done this with some flowers where the background was just a terrible mess and ended up with studio quality output. Thanks for your incredibly patient explanation.

    Reply
    • Chris

      Byron, this is EXACTLY why I am here .. flower photography.. any chance of seeing some examples of your results please ? Thanks.

      Reply
  174. Paddy F Dong

    As a relative novice at photography…… I’m just wondering would a powerful torch work instead of a proper flash? As I don’t own a separate flash.

    Reply
  175. Robert Thompson

    Thanks for taking the time to explain things in such great detail in a way that is easy to understand.

    Reply
  176. Natalie

    Hello Glyn! Really love this. You say you use a 60″ reflective umbrella, but what type of light are you actually using? Strobe? Really interested in the hardware setup you’ve got, and what type of light I’d need for this. Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hi Natalie

      For this technique I sometimes use a strobe and sometimes a normal studio flash; works great with either…all depends where you’re doing it and how much you want to carry around.

      I’ve also got a video on it over on my YouTube Channel where I show it using a studio light plugged into a battery pack outside: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FO9Zy8m3cxw&t=57s

      Hope this helps
      Glyn

      Reply
      • Natalie

        Thank you Glyn for your reply and for this post! I was able to achieve this without too much trouble. Now off to shoot! <3

        Reply
  177. Lisa Maria

    Wonderful talk about photography technique. This post so helpful for photography. This information is very effective.T hanks for share with us.

    Reply
  178. Michelle

    Can i use diy light? I dont have speedlight 🙂

    Reply
  179. Steve Loudon

    I’ve been trying this technique for two days prior to finding your site tonight. You have confirmed my suspicion. This is virtually impossible to do indoors unless you have some method to narrow and direct the light. The flash will bounce too much to be controllable. I’m going to look into the products that you mentioned.

    Reply
    • Kat

      Hi there
      I faced the same issue and ended up using a waste bin “lined” with the silver cover of my foldable reflector. I had to use f11 upwards, but then it worked quite ok

      Reply
  180. saluli

    Hi i did actually try all your instructions but with my camera flash but i didn’t get the same results, some details in the background were shown also the face was not lite well ? do i need more flash light do you think ? i did adjust the iso to 100 iso also to also lower 2 stops them 100 , were could the problem be i’m thinking !
    thank you ..

    Reply
  181. Samuel E

    I’ve just come across your instructions and I am about to give it a go with a 24 X 24 Godox Soft Box + a grid it. I’m thinking it might work and then again might not but… My main reason for writhing is this ~ I was wondering would the ‘Rogue 3-in 1 Flash stacking system’ work well in this situation?

    Reply
  182. Risto

    Thank you for clear explanation. However, one tip for all: If you have High Speed Sync in your camera and compatible flash, you can use even 1/4000 s sync speed (Canon 550D). This gives you much more room for aperture adjustment and therefore more flexibility for picture setup.

    Reply
  183. Linda Villamor

    if the the viewfinder is totally black, how do you see the subject you’re photographing?

    Reply
  184. Noelia

    Great article.

    Reply
  185. Aziz

    Not getting the pure black background indoors or outdoors. I have a Canon T6i.

    Reply

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