Photos of a single object in front of a black background are so appealing! And their popularity is growing fast. Many people are obsessed with the idea of applying the dark background technique in various ways. Some even go so far as creating Instagram accounts for promoting food against black backgrounds. But the greatest thing about working with black background photography is that it’s easy to master. Anyone interested can do it – even you and me!
Just read this guide and become the king or queen of black background images!
But first, let’s look at the basics of working with a pure black background. Even if there are a limited number of secrets behind outstanding dark background images, it’s essential to emphasize the core factors that guarantee good results for black background photography.
As Expert Photography notes, in creating an outstanding black background, the most important thing to pay attention to is the lighting. To make it work, bring in a bright light focused on the subject to deepen the play of shadows on the dark background. Voila - and the perfect black photo backdrop magically appears!
As you can see, capturing images with a black background isn’t a matter of searching for the proper decorations – the best dark backgrounds appear behind a properly illuminated subject.
However, as the last stop before diving into our guide on working with black backgrounds, you should keep in mind the core principle applied even for black photography: a dark background doesn’t actually need a sharp contrast with the subject. It’s the wise application of light that creates the appearance of a pure black background.
In this article, we’ve collected all the information you need to successfully create cool dark backgrounds in your photos. The first section reveals the basics of black background photography in the days when only black and white backgrounds were available.
Let’s start by looking at the way film photographers contributed to images with black backgrounds.
Black backgrounds and film photography
In the early days of photography, a white and black background was the only option available. And artists learned how to use this color scheme in a way that still works – even for contemporary images on a dark background!
Specifically, the greatest achievement of film photography for creating contemporary black backgrounds was finding a way to establish a sharp contrast between subjects by playing with the lighting alone.
Photo by Ansel Adams
And the results were truly marvelous. Just look at these examples of classic photography – they can easily serve as a source of inspiration for contemporary black background images!
Photo by Eve Arnold
It’s incredible that we’re looking at exclusively white and black background in shots that had no chance to go through post-processing stage in a photo editor software. Today, even these masterpieces could look better, and the dark backgrounds could gain more depth.
At least, that’s how photographers work with black backgrounds now. Luckily, we live in an age when it’s possible to create whatever effects we want in all our images. With Luminar 3, you can easily insert in a color photo black and white backgrounds or beautify the appearance of dark backgrounds. Click the button below to try one of the best photo editing software tools on the market.
Thanks to the great photographers of the past, we know that the art of creating a pure black background is a matter of lighting. And, of course, crafting a proper backdrop for aplain background image behind the chosen subject. We’ll look at the importance of this in the next section.
The magic behind crafting a plain black background
Of course, the best and most obvious way to shoot black background photography is to find a proper black backdrop. So it’s time to search for a piece of fabric big enough to serve as a dark background.
In this context, finding a backdrop has another advantage: working with a black background significantly reduces the amount of time spent on the post-processing stage. The best choice is a dark or black stretchy fabric that doesn’t reflect light (so no plastic, shiny sheets, or materials that create light backgrounds). As most photographers agree, the best of the best is a black velvet background. At the same time, a stretchy piece of fabric or even a black bed sheet will also work great (especially if you don’t have money for velvet).
However, you can avoid this step altogether. You may be surprised, but the best black background pictures don’t necessarily include a black backdrop.The proper lighting and exposure can do the job instead.
Let’s look closer at how the right lighting and exposure can create great black backdrop photography without using an actual black backdrop.
Lighting tricks for black background photography
Beyond the basic photography rules, there are particularities to lighting for images withdark backgrounds. Among all, don’t hesitate to play with natural light. For instance, ablack background can be created by putting your subject close to the window in a room where all the doors and other windows are closely shut. In this situation, adding a black backdrop on the wall can make the appearance of a dark background a bit stronger - but it’s not that necessary.
At the same time, artificial studio lighting is still easier to work with. It gives you an extra level of control by providing the opportunity to use flags – pieces of fabric that allow you to block the light from unneeded areas. Here, the size of the room really matters, and the combination of a small area and a black background will work best for your photography.
The chemistry behind crafting a black backdrop for black photography
Generally, the proper exposure of subjects in front of black backgrounds is as essential as the lighting. Just pay attention to camera settings to achieve the best results. By knowing your camera well, you can even turn casual backgrounds black!
A nice trick to create the illusion of a black backdrop for your black background photography is to play with the camera settings in manual mode.
Here’s a guide to adjust them appropriately:
1. Put your ISO to the lowest level possible (this decreases the camera’s sensitivity to light).
2. Set your shutter speed to the highest level (so the least light will reach the sensor).
3. Select an aperture of around f/5.6.
4. Check that you see nothing but a dark background on the screen. If a plain background image appears, proceed to step 6.
5. Go back and increase the aperture to f/8.0 if the black backdrop isn’t as dark as you expected.
6. Use the flash to bring in your subject from the plain background image.
However, avoid shooting indoors. The flash can introduce wallpaper, tables, and other unnecessary elements into your black background image. In general, blond and pale models require less work with lighting and exposure than models posing for black photography (or just with darker skin and hair). In the latter case, a backlight may be needed.
Techniques for capturing a black background portrait
In addition to the above-mentioned lighting and exposure principles for photographs with dark backgrounds, there are some additional factors to consider while working with humans and for black photography. For example, to make your dark background in a portrait as black as possible, consider pushing it as far as possible from the person you’re capturing. Distance does magic with any type of portrait (including those on a white-and-black background) - combined with the proper choice of lighting (which is important for black photography especially).
Thus, the crucial task for a black background portrait is working with the color balance, as the lighting may significantly affect the way tones are represented in the image. Choosing the proper angle and the appropriate power of light is quite important for this type of black background photography.
Besides, portraits on dark backgrounds call on you to consider dynamic range. For ablack background image, limited dynamic range hinders the ability of a camera to include bothblack and white backgrounds (or, for example, dark shadows and bright sunlight).
Finally, a black background portrait isn’t only about capturing people. For instance, in gardening, there’s a special category of images of flowers with black backgrounds calledspecimen shots. In addition, you can find lots of lovely portraits of pets, birds, and food in the Internet. However, switching subjects doesn’t change the basic principles of distance, lighting, and dynamic range.
Useful tips for a proper start in mastering black photography
Now that you know the principles of working with black backdrop photography, adjusting your camera settings, and creating black background images of people and flowers, it’s time to apply all this theory in practice!
In this section, we’ve collected the best recommendations for those who have never captured images with dark backgrounds before. Check them all out!
1. Search for cool black backgrounds outdoors. With the proper attention, it’s possible to find the dark nature background of your dreams everywhere. To make the most of the natural environment, go out on a sunny day and search for the long shadows from buildings, cars, plants, and other objects available on the streets. Once you find a shiny black background at the intersection between sun and shadow, pick any subject and start shooting right away!
2. Prepare the object for your dark background photoshoot in advance. Once you’ve found a nice shadow for your black background image, it’s best to have something you really want to capture there. To work properly with the subjects of your black background photography, put them in the line between the sun and the shadow.
3. Find a black poster or a black bed sheet. This is useful for black backdrop photography and for practicing capturing indoor images on a dark background. Put on the wall a piece of furniture, a black board, a poster or bed sheet makes it convenient to practice capturing various subjects in front of a black background and become confident in this skill.
4. Experiment with flash. An essential element of the camera settings for black photography, flash provides an opportunity to improvise with angles and bright areas in your photos. In other words, it enhances your creativity in front of any black background.
5. Look closer at what you see. A great trick for checking the depth of your black background is to try looking at it by squinting your eyes – this limits the amount of light your eyes take in and helps you to see more clearly.
Post-processing of black background photography
Notwithstanding all your efforts spent getting the perfect black background, post-processing is inevitable – especially if your camera has a wide dynamic range.
When working with black background photography in Photoshop, professionals mostly adjust contrast, shadows, and levels, then brush on their dark background images. In addition, we recommend smoothing the color of the shiny black background with a brush tool.
Another useful technique in Photoshop is using the burn tool on a black background image with low exposure. Being put in the shadows while editing the black backdrop photography, it brings the best result. In combination, several edited parts of an image create a balanced vision, free of the common extremes found in black background images.
Post-processing of black background images with Luminar
In Luminar, the task of darkening the color of light backgrounds is solved even more easily than in Photoshop. Luminar introduces a wide range of instruments that allow photographers to work with a portrait background, make changes to a grey background, and even apply various Photoshop plugins. It even includes a background remover! These tools are useful for both beginners and professionals. And they’ll help you achieve success in black background photography. So make an investment in the future of your images – order the whole package of Luminar instruments and guarantee yourself marvelous photo results at the post-processing stage!