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When using studio lighting, one of the unpleasant things is related to the background. Of course, if you have the space, time and money, then you can just stock up on a high-quality studio background in white or black (or some shade of gray).

The good news is that it may be quite enough for you to use a white or gray wall, and to make the background appear black or the desired shade of gray – use a special light control method. The method discussed in this article is quite simple.

How to control background tones
Understanding how light falls allows you to control how the background looks in photos

Move the light

To control the background in the picture, all you have to do is move the light source (although this seems not entirely logical). To get a darker background, you need to move the light closer to the object. For a brighter background – move the light further.

This approach impacts the background in the frame; however, it also completely changes the quality of the light incident on your subject.

In order to demonstrate this, the photographer used a small softbox located directly in front of the subject and above it. In the image sequence below, you can clearly see that the light source simply gradually moves backward in increments of half a meter. In addition, you see that the softbox is tilted up a bit, and when it moves back, it is aimed at the object, not the floor.

When the light source approaches the subject, the light falls on it faster. Simply put, this means that when you move the source closer to the correctly exposed object (do not forget to recount the exposure each time the source is moved), the light reaching your background loses its intensity with greater speed, thereby making the background darker.

How to control background tones
In this sequence (starting from left to right), the light source is first half a meter from the object and moves back in increments of 0.5 m until it reaches a distance of 3 meters in the right frame

In these examples, the photographer used a medium gray background to better illustrate changes in tonality as the light source moves.

In the first image on the left, the light is 50 cm from the object, which turns the gray background into almost black. In a meter, in the second image, the background becomes noticeably lighter. In the fifth image, at a distance of three meters, the gray tone of the background almost matches the light gray shirt of the subject.

Since the light was moving away from the object in each frame, the exposure had to be measured for each movement of the light source. The image on the left was shot with f / 11, and the image on the right was shot with f / 2.8, which is four steps of the difference in exposure.

How to control background tones
Left: soft light 1 m from the light source. Right: hard light, then it is 3 meters away. In this case, you can clearly see the difference in the quality of lighting. Pay particular attention to the tonal transition between light areas and shadow in both images.

It is important to note that moving the light source closer or further will also greatly affect how the light falls on the subject. As the quality of light changes in the background, it also changes in the subject. At close proximity, the softness and intensity of the light on the object will change, which will make it brighter in terms of exposure and softer (the quality of lighting is directly related to the size of the light source and the distance from the object).

Moving light farther from your subject will result in a brighter background. This will also lead to increased illumination of the entire object. Just keep in mind that many objects are not suitable for hard light, and be careful how far you move the source, then you should be fine.

However, if you move the light source too far from the subject, you can also use a small flash at a closer distance. For example, the effect of a soft box at a distance of three meters is barely noticeable compared to a conventional flash without a light modifier.


That’s all. This technique is easy to put into practice, even if you still do not understand the technical aspects of the Law of Reverse Squares. Backlighting and flags can help you solve the problem of exposing the background. This method is another simplified option that you can add to your set of skills, and hopefully brings you one step closer to making your frame the way you want it to.

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