Backdrops are a key element of portrait photography, headshots and studio photography. Whether you use seamless paper, solid color muslins or one of the various other fabric styles available, your backdrop color choice will influence your final result almost as much as the subject does. The backdrop will play off the subject’s clothing, skin tone, eyes, hair color, props and even painted fingernails; however, it can also convey and enhance different types of energies and emotions in the photo. With some subject matter, backgrounds should live up to their name — stay more subdued, neutral and “in the background.” However, in other scenarios, it can pay to go bold. If you’ve ever wondered about the color meaning and impact of backdrops for photography, this guide can help.
WhiteWhen it comes to seamless paper or vinyl backdrops, the most popular color choice is white. Why is this? For one, white offers a stylish, classic look that never goes out of style. It’s light, airy and contemporary. It’s like a blank canvas; open, clean, and with the potential for any composition or design. It allows for maximum focus on the subject. White reflects light effectively and helps to illuminate the shoot. It’s versatile in that just about any color looks great in front of it. Also, color gels can be placed over your lighting to create different background colors as needed.
BlackA black backdrop can also be a stylish, contemporary choice. With some subjects, it can imply mystery and foreboding; in other settings, power and elegance. Black is also always in style and can work with many subject colors. Low-key portraits with minimal contrast can convey drama and mystique, as some detail will be lost in shadows. A black backdrop can also punch up brighter subjects in colors like red, orange and yellow.
Gray TonesPhotographers love gray because it’s a neutral hue that keeps emphasis on the subject. It never distracts and goes with just about any clothing or hair color. Gray backdrops are highly versatile and work with muted tones as well as bright, neon colors. You can use lighting broadly, or point a spotlight in the center behind the subject for a more focused effect.
Earth Tones — Brown, Beige, Tan, TaupeBrown backdrops offer a classic and time-honored look, especially in some of the Old Master styles that have been used in photography for decades. Earth tones convey stability and groundedness and complement a wide range of skin tones. They are fairly neutral, but feel less formal than gray or black. Brown seamless paper can complement outfits or products with tones of yellow, orange, green or purple.
BlueA blue backdrop will have a soothing, subduing effect in your photos. It conveys tranquility and calm (and even acts as an appetite suppressant — have you ever noticed how few restaurants use blue in their logos?) Blue is also a masculine color and conveys a more serious tone, especially the darker shades. Blue backdrops are great for corporate and executive photos and headshots. Blue also works well for real estate agent headshots — anytime a more serious, corporate or technical subject matter is your focus.
GreenGreen has not been a traditionally popular backdrop color choice, but in recent years has been used when a natural, organic or environmentalist theme is desired. Even moreso than blue, green has a calming effect on the viewer, especially slightly blue-green or aqua shades. Dark green can work well when financial or economic themes are involved.
Warm Tones — Red, Orange and YellowRed is the most energizing of all colors. It can motivate, raise your blood pressure and even make you hungry. It’s a passionate, attention-getting color that is also associated with love. Deeper reds can convey royalty and elegance. If the shot calls for boldness, red can definitely help get you there. Reddish-orange tones have a less-intense effect, but be aware that the more pure orange tones may convey “Halloween” or “safety orange.” Yellow conveys warmth, joy, sunshine, happiness and positive energy. It can work well with children’s portraits or when a clean, fresh vibe is called for.
PurplePurple can be challenging to use as a backdrop color. Bright purple can definitely work with kids, and deeper shades are associated with luxury and royalty. Other associations for purple are spirituality and creativity. Use with care! If you want to convey a glamorous, over-the-top theme, purple is a great option!
PastelsPastels are lighter versions of colors and can convey very different meanings than their origin color. Pastels will nearly always work with newborns, toddlers and in any scenario where a soft, sweet look is desired. You can “go bold” with pastels by trying them with a highly-contrasting subject.
Neutral TonesNeutral tones can be light or dark; the key element is that the hue and saturation of the color is not high. Neutral tones nearly always work as background colors and will stay in the background. They are a “safe” choice in nearly all scenarios. One of the key things to remember when choosing a background for portrait photography or studio photography is that color always registers an effect on the viewer. Reds, yellows and oranges have an energizing color meaning and in some cases an agitating effect, so be aware of this when considering them as a backdrop choice. Cool tones like greens, blues, cool grays and neutral tans tend to have a calming, sedating effect. Ultimately, the decision to stay serene or go bold should be a joint one between the photographer and client. Neutral backdrops almost always work, but going bold is a riskier move that, if done well, can pay big dividends.
Do you like adding a style element with your backdrop, or always keeping it neutral?
-Backdrop Express Photography Team
Interested in reading more about the importance of your backdrop color? Check out How to Choose the Right Backdrop Color for Your Portrait!
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