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10 Things to know about photography Background

Finding the right background for a photograph can be difficult, but it is a necessary step in getting a great shot. In many cases, the background material greatly influences the outcome. One that is too busy can detract from a subject. However, one that is too dull can leave the whole image looking washed out and unfinished. A living wall might be nice for a couple, whereas a solid color in a bright area might be more ideal for a portrait. Factors involved in choosing a background include the subject, the desired feel of the photograph, and the purpose of the shoot. Learning how to select the perfect background every time takes practice, but understanding the basics behind background selection can make the task far easier.

1. Gender-Based Shade Selection

When taking a traditional portrait in a photography studio, gender-based shade selection is one popular method of determining the backdrop to use. It involves equating certain colors with masculinity and others with femininity. Of course this is far from an exact science and could even be counterproductive depending on the purpose of the photograph, the subject, and the desired outcome. However, for many traditional intents and purposes, such as a young child's birthday portrait, gender-based shade selection is quick, easy, and makes the subject happy.

Following the tradition, dark colors like brown and black are good for a masculine subject. Light tones and pastels are better for feminine subjects or when tenderness is the primary emotion the photographer wishes to evoke. Remember to keep the subject's clothing, hair, and skin color in mind when selecting a background shade. If shooting a portrait, it is important not to let hair or skin color fade into the background. 


2. Complementary Colors

All colors are associated with certain feelings and have other shades they tend to look good next to. There should be some contrast, and the subject of the photo should not be colored too similarly to the background. Finding the right combination ensures that the photo comes out looking well shot and not simply a blur of a single color or a clash of ill-fitting colors. The chart below lists general colors and their complements. In other words, these colors mesh well together. Use this chart to match subjects with a complementary background. Keep in mind to make some allowance for tone. Extremely bright, glossy shades may not work as well with dull, matte shades and vice versa. Do not be afraid to experiment.





Blue, purple, and green

Optimistic; Life-affirming; Sunny



Emotionally stimulating; Upbeat



Passion; Appetite-inducing; Anger


Light Green

Soothing; Comforting



Royalty; Power


Orange, Yellow

Calming; Reflective


Pink, Yellow, Red

Calming; Relaxing; Reassuring


Green, Yellow, Pink, Purple

Reassuring; Safe; Stabilizing



Power; Control; Bold



Airy; Pure; Clear; Serene

3. Less Is More

Busy backgrounds are a generally a no-go, as they can detract from the focus. When it doubt, stick with a background that is plain, rather than one that is busy or bright. Plain or natural backgrounds tend to photograph well, without taking the focus away from the subject. Select a background that complements what the subject is wearing and stick with it throughout. When selecting one is not entirely in your hands, try cropping out most of the surroundings by doing a close-up shot of the subject.

4. Poster Board Background

Poster board accounts for one of the most popular background choices in the world, especially amongst novice photographers. It is affordable, widely available, and comes in numerous colors. Professional photographers often use seamless poster board, which comes in rolls up to 140 inches wide. It is great to have several shades on hand in the studio. Just remember that at the end of the day, it is only paper and rips easily if not treated with care.

5. Lighting

Lighting the background is nearly as important to the finished project as having proper light to shine on the subject. The most popular methods for background lighting include graduated lighting, standard even lighting, and dropped out or shadowless lighting.

Type of Lighting




Created with a curved background, with a light positioned at the top. This makes the background appear lighter at the top and darker at the bottom.

It may help to raise the subject up using a glass or Plexiglas stand to allow light to sweep under them.

Even Lighting

Lighting is evenly dispersed on the background and the subject. Adjust lighting appropriately to ensure nothing falls into shade.

Position subject and lights in a way that all light appears even and nothing is over or underexposed. May take some experimentation.

Dropped Out/Shadowless

Use a pure white or solid color background for this type of lighting, which makes the subject appear to float. Place lighting so that the background appears overexposed.

Placing the subject on a clear platform, with lighting from underneath, is the best way to achieve this effect.

6. Caring for Backgrounds

Caring for photo backgrounds is usually pretty simple but very important, so that photographers do not have to continue buying replacements. Remember that even minor imperfections, such as tears and wrinkles, can really affect the final product. While backdrops may be repaired in some cases, fixes like patches and stitching show up in photos. Keep paper backdrops rolled up and fabric drops ironed and folded. Store in a location where the materials are free from weather, bugs, and dust. Though fabric backgrounds are rather resilient, a paper background tears quite easily. It is important for the photographer to consider methods of transporting materials as well, as most backgrounds are too wide to fit into a standard vehicle.

7. Muslin Background

Muslin backdrops add a nice touch to many photographs. Created with loosely woven threads, they are soft and add a feminine touch. Muslin is a delicate fabric that should always be stored when not in use and hung up if at all possible. It should also be cleaned sparingly by hand with little or no detergent. Many commercially available muslin backdrops come with a storage bag, though a small duffle bag suffices just as well for travel. Fortunately, muslin does not wrinkle as easily as many other delicate fabrics.

6. Using a Natural Background

Nature tends to provide the best lighting and imagery for photographic backgrounds. Dawn and dusk are the best time, as the lighting tends to be most ideal. Whenever possible, visit the location of the shoot ahead of time to scout out good spots for a picture. Moreover, a professional photographer can do many things to add to the natural beauty of the surroundings. For example, dialing exposure down about .05 tends to bring out colors and improve the brightness of an image.

7. Digital Background

Thanks to modern technology, choosing the right background material is sometimes as simple as a click of the mouse. Advanced photo-editing software makes it possible to replace a background with something else entirely. If a background turns out to be a total disaster, load it to your computer and work on it from there.

For photographers who wish to deal almost exclusively in this type of photography, a green screen is a good investment. Sometimes referred to as Chroma Key photography, using a green screen allows the photographer to add in the background later using computer software. It is a popular type of special effect and convenient for many kinds of artistic expression.


8. Vary Angles

If your background just does not look right, the problem may lie in the way you are taking the picture. After getting some undesirable test shots from a background you want to use, try changing up the perspective by holding the camera a different way or repositioning yourself. Taking photos from above, below, and to the side of the subject can drastically change the outcome.

9. Background Brightness vs. Subject Brightness

The photographer should always be aware of the contrast in brightness between the subject and the background. Though there are exceptions, it is typically ideal that the subject be brighter than the background. This is because ultra-bright backgrounds tend to be distracting.

10. Using a White or Black Sheet

Black and white bed sheets and comforters can be easy, inexpensive backdrops. They are especially useful when taking pictures of infants, as they likely are lying down for the shot. Black velvet is an especially popular choice and photographs well.

Finding Photography Backgrounds on eBay

The global marketplace on eBay provides consumers with many options for obtaining photography backdrops, cameras, and accessories. Visit the Camera & Photo section to review listings. Search within Lighting & Studio area for Photography Background Material. You can also refine your search results to include price range, condition, and even seller location.

Once you've selected a listing that interests you, be sure to examine the details. If you need more information, you can ask the seller questions. In addition, you can learn more about the seller's time on eBay by visiting their profile page.


Photographic backgrounds make up a huge part of the final shot. When used correctly, a good backdrop can greatly enhance the subject's appearance without detracting focus from it. Finding the right background can be a trial, with every photo needing a slight adjustment. To get the best shots, keep a variety of background materials on hand at all times, along with several different lighting sources. Never be afraid to try something new. If everything else fails, leave the studio, head outside, and let Mother Nature create the background and lighting for you.