Choosing the Right Background for Portraits

by | Jun 18, 2018

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

There are lots of options when it comes to choosing a backdrop for portraiture, starting with the ubiquitous seamless paper, which will be the subject of its own and upcoming post. Here’s a look at some other options:

Muslin is a closely woven cloth that’s produced from corded cotton yarn. Different kinds of dyes can be applied to it and because of its light weight muslin can easily be compressed making it ideal for packing for location shoots. For a different style than the last time you used a particular background, a muslin backdrop can be draped using clips sold at Home Depot and Lowes to provide a new look, like I did with this photo.

Some companies offer wrinkle-free synthetic fabric backdrops. Silverlake Photo calls’em Colorsmacks and they can literally be smacked into place with their sewn-in Velcro fasteners. And then there are unique backdrops like Savage’s Translum background that looks like frosted glass and is available in rolls of 54-inches and 60-inches wide as well as 12×12-foot sheets. Translum is made from Mylar and can be hung on a background stand like the Savage Economy Background kit I used for a session with an aspiring model featured at left. It’s high key made easy.

Canvas backdrops are suited for permanent locations because of their heavier weight. They can also be expensive but the surface lets the artist produce realistic looking backdrops. Canvas must be kept rolled between uses or when transporting to avoid creasing. Paint is hand brushed and colors tend to be intense. Because the background is perfectly flat a canvas backdrop is consistent from one photograph to the next. This is especially important to shooters photographing corporate employees so the background always looks the same no matter when it was made. Photographers committed to a traditional portraiture style feel that canvas gives a more formal look but I’m not so sure you can tell canvas from a well-made muslin just by looking at the portrait.

Today I use muslin and Colorsmack backdrops after many years of schlepping canvas backdrops and setting them up in locations as diverse as a client’s living room or a convention center. But seamless paper remains a really useful tool for portraiture. More later…



If you’re interested in learning how I shoot portraits and how I use cameras, lenses and lighting in my in-home studio and on location, please pick up a copy of Studio Lighting Anywhere which is available new from with for $23.34 and $3.73 used, as I write this. If you’re interested in learning how to shoot better portraits and would like some hands-on training, check out my one-on-one workshops.