5 Common Problems You'll Have Shooting White Backgrounds (& How to Fix Them)

White backgrounds are versatile and can be used for many different kinds of projects, but they certainly come with their own set of challenges.

Chances are that you will have to shoot a scene in front of a white background at some point in your filmmaking career. If done right, your shots can look polished and professional, but if done wrong, will look muddy and clumsy. In this video from Adorama, photographer Gavin Hoey shows you 5 common problems you might encounter when working with a white background, as well as how to troubleshoot them.

Even though the video is geared more for photographers using strobes, Hoey's great lighting techniques easily translate to the world of cinematography. Here are the problems and solutions he shared in the video:

Problem: Your white background looks grey.

Solution: The issue here is that there isn't enough light hitting the background for it to show up as pure white. All you have to do is add more light to the background and spread it as evenly as you can. (You can use diffusion if you need.)

Problem: Your subject lacks contrast.

Solution: This is kind of the opposite of the previous issue. If your subject lacks contrast, it might be due to there being too much light or unequal brightness from different sources. So, if you're getting this washed out look, you'll want to meter your lights to make sure they're the same brightness so you can get a proper exposure.

Problem: Your background isn't white all over.

Solution: There are actually a couple of ways to fix this issue, both with lighting and in post. First, if you're already working with a key and fill, adding an additional light can help spread more light evenly over your white backdrop. Second, if you don't have a second light, try Hoey's technique of putting your fill light directly behind your subject. Though it won't completely make your backdrop completely white, the vignette it creates is super easy to fix in post.

Problem: Lighting a white floor

Solution: Some of your shots are going to include more than a white backdrop—sometimes you'll need to include a white floor as well. It's difficult to evenly light (and expose) both a backdrop and floor without having several extra lights, but Hoey has a great solution: bounce light by using perspex, plexiglass, or any kind of reflective surface on the floor below your subject. (You'll still need to do some work in post, though.)

Problem: Correcting your shots in post

Solution: Correcting problems in an image is much easier if it's a still. Since we're working with video, there may be a few more/different steps you'll have to go through in order to get your shot perfectly white. 

What are some other common issues you run into while working with white backdrops? How do you fix them? Let us know in the comments below!     

Your Comment

4 Comments

Light white background one stop over.

August 14, 2016 at 3:30AM

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Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
1578

While that may work for some, I never do it. Although, one stop over is not that much, it's unnecessary and may pollute your image as flare. Even a white, properly exposed, as I describe below, can cause flare in some lenses.

For crisp white shooting, flare is your enemy.

For stills, I light my white background evenly and right at 254 or 255 (and in some cases, around 250, if I feel like there's a possibility of flare) when measured with the eye dropper in Lightroom or Capture One. A measurement of 250 can always be adjusted to 255 with a slight tweak in post. Then, I light my subject accordingly for contrast and color. This minimizes flare from the background which, always reduces contrast. And it really doesn't need to be any brighter as 255 is pure white anyway.

I also, flag everything just outside the camera frame with black so that no extraneous light enters the lens (flare) except that which is in frame. Make sure that none of your lights directly strike the front element of the lens.

Somewhat like green screen, keep your subject as far away from the white background as possible. This will minimize white light from the background wrapping your subject.

Video is a bit different as, typically, white is around 70% when shooting log. It helps a lot having a LUT to show you where everything will line up in post. The above suggestions hold true for video, though, as well.

August 14, 2016 at 6:59AM, Edited August 14, 7:11AM

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Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
2129

When I say light the background 1 stop over, I mean using an incident light flash meter to adjust all sources of (strobe) lighting. Main, fill, back etc.
I've been doing white on white photography for over 45 years and never experienced "lens flare".
Hint; position your camera lens behind any light spill or use Cinefoil, barndoors etc. to avoid flare.

August 15, 2016 at 2:46AM

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Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
1578

I've shot people on green-screen and then turned the GS background white, which works quite well, though the edges are not a clean as shooting against a real white background.

To get a white floor, shoot on shiny white vinyl which will reflect the background the person is standing against and produce a pure white floor.

August 14, 2016 at 9:10AM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
33893