How to Create White Backgrounds to Your Photos

How do you get such nice white backgrounds in your photographs? Truly curious, ShyShirley 
Hi ShyShirley!

I assume you mean the white backgrounds in my step-by-step tutorials?

Clear, well-lit photos are a MUST when it comes to sharing your craft or DIY tutorials.  And having a background that isn’t white or close to it can be distracting when you’re trying to show a step-by-step process.  (Though for photos of the finished product it’s often better to see them in action or in a stylized set-up, not on a pristine sterilized white background.)

Since I don’t have a photographic studio or anything, I fudge my photos using these things:

Photo taken on posterboard, near window in daytime.  I haven’t Photoshopped this yet; it’s just to show you the board.

1) A large piece of white posterboard from the craft store. I have to replace it every couple months or so because it gets scratched and gunky.

2) Taking the photos inside near a window, but out of direct sunlight. I’ll always take two shots of the same setup: one using the fill flash attachment to my camera; one without.

Photo taken at night using posterboard, Ott-Lite, and fill flash.  The contrast is very stark but colors are super-saturated.

If I absolutely *have* to take photos at nighttime (which I hate doing, but sometimes it’s unavoidable) I’ll use a portable Ott-Lite (which is, FYI a really excellent lighting source; super-bright and gets the colors to show up true – the best light I’ve ever used, hands-down…and I don’t know how I crafted or DIY’ed anything prior to getting it LOL;-)) and the fill flash on my camera. This produces very harsh shadows and I usually can only do this for close-ups and detailed tutorials.

3) Messing around with the Levels in Photoshop until the background goes as white as I can get it without losing detail in the object I’m photographing.

Photo taken against the gray wall.  I was very aggressive with the levels in Photoshop and you can see the wall is no longer gray, but the shadows are still fairly harsh.

I also have a light gray wall in my house that sometimes I photograph things against, using the fill flash and aiming a floor lamp at it.

This is all pretty primitive but it seems to work okay (except when I need to get shots of something that’s bigger than my posterboard!:-(

Hope that helps!

Leave Comment Question: Britney’s Unretouched Photos

I received this question in my box:

Have you seen the release of the unretouched photos of Brittany Spears for the new Candies ads? ( What do you think of them?

This is the 4/14/2010 Daily Mail Reporter article she is referring to:

“Britney Spears bravely agrees to release un-airbrushed images of herself next to the digitally-altered versions

“Celebrities, and the industry around them, are often accused of producing images that affect young people’s body image.
“Which is why it’s so refreshing to see one of the world’s most famous pop stars allowing all of their imperfections to be highlighted.
“Britney Spears has allowed the pre-airbrushed images from a shoot she took part in for fashion firm Candie’s to be used ALONGSIDE the digitally-altered ones, so people can see the difference.

Brave move: Britney Spears has allowed airbrushed images from her shoot to be released along with the original raw photos which show all her imperfectionsBrave move: Britney Spears has allowed airbrushed images from her shoot to be released along with the original raw photos which show all her imperfections
The 29-year-old singer made the extraordinary move in order to highlight the pressure exerted on women to look perfect.

“In the first shot, she is seen facing the camera with her arms behind her back.  Imperfections that can be clearly seen in the un-airbrushed shot include blemishes on her calf, her larger thighs and, if you look really closely, you can see her feet have dry skin on them.
“The airbrushed pictures, however, tell a different story with a slimmed-down waist and flawless, skinny legs.

“Meanwhile, in the second picture, she is seen from the back – in the un-airbrushed shot she has areas of cellulite on the back of her thighs, a tattoo on her lower back (sometimes called a ‘tramp stamp’) is clearly visible and her backside is a little out of shape.
“However, in the altered photo all of these imperfections have been wiped out – and she appears to have a pert rear, unrealistically smooth skin, slimmer legs and the tattoo has vanished.

Britney Spears in her Candies advertShaping up: The pop star's whole body has been trimmed down with the use of a computer, even down to removing a tattoo on her back
Shaping up: The pop star’s whole body has been trimmed down with the use of a computer, even down to removing a tattoo on her back.

“A source told the Daily Mirror newspaper: ‘Britney is proud of her body – imperfections and all.’
“Of the experience, the singer told press: ‘I had so much fun shooting the Candies for Kohl’s campaign. My favorite set-up was against the gigantic wall of pink cotton candy.’
“And she added: ‘I got to wear the cutest clothes and they are perfect for summer!'”


So…here’s my 2cents since you asked…

I think it’s pretty obvious from Britney’s history that she is not particularly savvy when it comes to press and PR…and thus, it is most certainly stretching the truth to write that she made the extraordinary move in order to highlight the pressure exerted on women to look perfect.”  I’m willing to bet that it wasn’t her idea in the first place, and she likely did not care one way or the other, as Britney Spears has never seemed overly concerned with women’s issues in the first place. (Unlike Jessica Simpson, for example.)  

 Excessive Photoshopping and “realism” in magazines and advertising is currently a hot debate topic…perhaps in part kicked off by that unretouched photo of Lizzie Miller in Glamour Magazine last September (photo above)…and it’s patently obvious that Candie’s wanted to be a part of it.  (Don’t get me started on why they decided to use Britney Spears as poster girl for the Candie’s brand in the first place…I find it a strange and almost PR-blind decision, but whathaveyou.)  It’s sort of winceworthy that they chose to highlight Britney’s imperfections in releasing these photos…we’ve all seen the numerous tabloid photos of her over the years and so the public (I believe) is generally aware that Ms. Spears looks quite different in reality than when she is plastered with makeup, posed, and Photoshopped in a Candie’s ad or on her own album covers.  (Had this been pulled with someone like, say, Victoria Beckham, I think there would be much more of an “ohmygosh!” reaction.  Come on – we all know Britney has cellulite and acne and less-than-doll-like thighs.  The jig is up, Candie’s, in case you didn’t realize.)  Plus the company is only drawing attention to how much they have Photoshopped and digitally manipulated her in this ad (and therefore, we can assume, in all her ads for them up to now) so I’m not sure this is casting them in a good light by them saying “Look at our spokeswoman, Britney!!  Isn’t she such a dog in real life??  But she’s proud of it, so yay!”  Eye-roll-worthy…to me, it’s just someone else manipulating Britney’s image to get something out of it.  

I think she looks great in the BEFORE photos (especially as a woman who’s had kids and is entering her 30’s)…though to be perfectly and utterly honest, what I expect when I open a magazine is something more like the AFTER photos, which (though not reality for all intents and purposes) display a visually appealing perfection, and offer no extraneous flaws that could detract from the brand message.  (Except for Ms. Spears and her history, but we’ll leave that for another day.:-)

And on another note, as
the Photoshopping vs. what is real? debate rages on (with Jessica Simpson appearing without makeup on the cover of the latest issue of Marie Claire, for instance)…Health Magazine decided on this for their cover for the April 2010 issue:

Do you know who this is?  

I didn’t…I was like, “I think I’ve seen her somewhere before..gosh she kinda looks like…no, wait, this lady looks much older…who is this??”

And I’ve seen two of her movies, too.  Does this look like the Zooey Deschanel you know?  (You know, the cute one, lately from the covers of Lucky Magazine and those sweet and sort of innocent-looking Cotton ads.)

I think you can tell that they definitely laid off the Photoshopping for this cover…and as a result I couldn’t recognize her.  Or maybe I just haven’t seen her smiling enough.  Or maybe her hair/makeup looks very unlike her.  Or maybe I’m just an idiot.

Zooey fans, weigh in!  Oh, and Britney fans too – and anyone who wants to talk about Photoshopping people for magazine ads/covers…would love to hear your input too!

Thanks for your thought-provoking question!

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