Photography Lighting – White on White

Posted by Jerry Avenaim on December 10, 2009 – 7:55 pm
Jerry Avenaim for Diesel

Jerry Avenaim for Diesel

In photography, we the photographers are often asked to shoot on a white seamless background (or a cove). One of the most challenging shots in fashion, advertising, and catalog photography is to photograph a subject wearing white clothing on a white cove with perfect separation.  In images I have seen by others, there is often no separation between the white clothing or material and the white background. Over the years, I have heard so many photographers explain how they are able to achieve this in such a clean manner leaving no spill of light on the clothes or subject.

Some have said they have to be a certain distance from the background so their is no flair or wrap around of light. Rubbish! Some have these complex equations that I think require the photographer to have a doctorate to even comprehend. For instance some believe that if the background meters at F32 and the main light reads F11, and they are 16.5 feet away, they will get the perfect separation. Rubbish!

Advertising Photography for Diesel

Advertising Photography for Diesel

Now remember, to keep this consistent, they keep running to the wall to take a meter reading then back the subject to take another meter reading until that formula has been achieved. Okay, well what if you don’t have 16.5 feet or 20 feet or what ever your magic formula thinks it has to be?  Some photographers have a studio, others a garage, the formula works under conditions.  But nobody wants to run back and forth and you are not going to call Home Makeover just so that you can shoot white on white images.

Here is a simple tip to make you life easy, your white background photos consistent and flawless with no wrap, spill or flair of studio strobe lighting.

Light the white background (however you like, preferably with studio strobes). I happen to use two Profoto umbrellas stacked on each side, so you have four lights total facing the white seamless background (or cove). Then light the subject however you prefer. This brings us to the one stop rule. Take a reading of your subject, place the meter under the chin, point it at the camera and pop the flash. Let’s say the light on the face and body reads F11. Simply place the meter on the persons backside now facing the white seamless or cove and pop the flash again. You want the light traveling back to the subject to be no more than one stop less than the previous main reading on the key (front) lights. So therefore in this case, your reading on the face as I said earlier was F11 and the reading on the persons back should read F8 giving you a perfect separation between subject and and background!

Reading one stop under whatever the main light reads is the key to a consistent clean white background image. Even if the subject is wearing white clothes!

Voila, the one stop rule! And no more Rubbish!

To see more samples, visit my main web site here.

Happy shooting!

Jerry Avenaim
This post is for my friend and comrade Gerry Hanan
PS. Yes, ask questions as I’m sure there are some 😉

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22 Responds so far- Add one»

  1. 1. Gerry Hanan Said:

    Jerry, I am totally honored that you dedicated this post to me. I was so blessed to come home from dinner to see this article on your blog. I still remember learning this technique from you about at one of your seminars about 4 years ago. Before I attended your seminar and gathered this nugget, I had tried altering every possible element in the equation, including distance and power & at one point I even bought more lights. With all my experimenting, I was still unable to accomplish consistent results, so I was delighted to finally have you uncover what had remained a mystery to me. Thanks again for sharing this, it made a huge difference to the quality of my work. Can you remember where you learned this?

    [Reply]

    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    Gerry, The pleasure is mine and you are most welcome.

    As far as how I learned the technique, it was actually self taught. After working for some great masters in my assisting years, I thought there had to be a better way.

    After thinking about it a bit, it dawned on me. And this simple mathematical equation worked every time! I would add one thing, I myself prefer a 1.3 stop difference, this is flawless and will give you a clean “deadly” photograph every time!

    Happy shooting!

    [Reply]

  2. 2. Duke Morse Said:

    I think that this is the best explanation for white on white separation that I have ever seen. It is so simple that everyone should be able to grasp the concept and produce outstanding images.

    Bravo my friend.

    ~Duke

    ps…Happy Holidays to you and yours.

    [Reply]

    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    Thank you Duke, I’m thrilled you found it helpful!

    Happy Holidays!

    [Reply]

  3. 3. Jan Said:

    Excellent description and technique. After reading it Friday, I couldn’t resist trying it out: http://photos.janklier.com/2009/12/results-white-on-white.html

    Cheers,
    Jan

    [Reply]

    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    Hey Jan!

    That’s pretty good! Now that is perfect separation. My images are about the same, although a bit more on the background. Sometimes I still have to kick up the background just a smidge if I want it pure white 🙂

    Well done!

    [Reply]

  4. 4. Luis Alvarez Said:

    woooooooooooow!! really useful!! thanks for sharing!

    [Reply]

  5. 5. Doug Lauber Said:

    What would the negative effect of say, having the subject at F8 and the background the same or even brighter?

    [Reply]

    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    Hi Doug,

    The problem with having the same reading on the background is you’ll have a very dingy white. Much like not washing your whites in hot water or using bleach 😉

    If you go brighter, the light traveling back from the white background will spill over on to the subject causing a wrap of light or full on flare.

    Hope that helps! ~Jerry Avenaim

    [Reply]

  6. 6. Doug Lauber Said:

    I think I got it. You can always print the photo lighter, but if the background is too bright, light spillage will ‘harm’ the edges of the subject. Digitally, I think it would be possible to use a green screen, light it less brightly than the subject, and print it with whatever color or brightness that you want.
    (theory- I have not tried it yet)

    [Reply]

  7. 7. Kim Sinton Said:

    Good to know, thanks for sharing.

    [Reply]

  8. 8. joe rimes Said:

    You time to share your expertise is much appreciated. Your work is great. My question is your metering technique for White on White. Everything I read on high key is background should be about 2 stops above [more light] than key. Your technique is a stop less [ie. f8 back and f11 key] …am I reading it right?

    Best of continued success on your work. Thanks for sharing.

    [Reply]

  9. 9. StreetShadows Said:

    great description and very helpful. will certainly try it out at some point soon. thanks

    [Reply]

  10. 10. Jonas David Said:

    Jerry, i’m new in this photography field. Right now i’m practicing a nature photography, can you give me some easy techniques that can be used to improve my photographs that i’m taking? Thanks before…

    [Reply]

  11. 11. real estate photogra Said:

    I’m very pleased to have found this site. An excellent tip on capturing as subject wearing white on a white background. Do keep it up! Thank you!

    [Reply]

  12. 12. Simon Said:

    You’re right, that’s the best way one can know if there will be separation between the subject (white or not) and the white background.

    But, if your subject back exposure reading is not under one stop, what do you gotta do ? Increase the distance subject-to-BG ! So it’s no rubbish ! Read Zack Arias white seamless tutorial, he explains the same tip (back reading) and also explains how to fix the wrap issue.

    [Reply]

  13. 13. Alex Said:

    Interesting rule – I have to try it out. A the moment we shoot high key in the studio with 2 lights pointing towards the background and one big softbox lighting the subject.

    While the background is flawless, the floor still has some shades on it and we have to deal with them in Photoshop.

    Have a look:
    http://www.zakochaniwfotografii.com/fotografia-studyjna/

    Regards,
    Alex

    [Reply]

  14. 14. Di Said:

    Thanks Jerry will be trying this out tomorrow.

    [Reply]

  15. 15. Multiblitz Said:

    Excellent post Jerry! Will be trying this too.

    [Reply]

  16. 16. Josh Pabst Said:

    Thank you for this post; I need to do some full body white corporate shots next week and was looking for some simple rules of thumb on the lighting.

    [Reply]

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