Creating Clean White Backgrounds

A common question for many photographers is how to achieve clean white backgrounds. It sounds simple, yet so many struggle with getting the lighting correct. Instead, they end up with an overexposed image, or flare.

Here, Karl explains the equipment needed to achieve a clean white background and demonstrates, step-by-step, how to do this. He also explains how to tell whether the background is overexposed using RGB values.

In this class:

  • Common problems when trying to create clean white backgrounds
  • Lighting setup and necessary modifiers
  • Positioning your lights
  • Considerations when working in small spaces
  • Measuring white values
  • Reducing flare
  • Key points to consider when introducing a key light

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.

Comments

  1. Hi Karl,

    Thanks for all the great videos!

    Would it be possible to achieve a pure white background using only one light with a soft box for example? I only have three lights, two of which I would use to lit the subject, shooting on a paper background in a rather small space. I mostly do portrait and fashion photography.

      1. Hi Karl,

        Thanks for the quick response.

        I’ve watched the video and while it is very informative, I am not too sure how to use those tips in my situation as I am working with flash lights and shooting full body length models on a white paper background. Would appreciate clarification, thanks! 🙂

        1. Hi Jezza, in your last question you asked how you could use one light with a softbox as white background. In this video ‘Dove Shampoo’ I use one light with a softbox as a white background?

          1. Hi Karl,

            I see what you understood. I’m sorry, I didn’t explain myself properly. I was asking if it were possible to use only one flash light to light a white background and obtain the same result you got in the video. My comment about the soft box was just my best guess as to how to achieve that. I hope my question makes sense now. Sorry again for the confusion.

  2. Hi Karl!
    amazing how you transmit everything, congratulations.
    Here goes my question… I am having problems with obtaining pure white background. Why in my readings of RGB, the R value is always much lower than the G and B, almost everywhere I pick with the eyedropper?
    Thank you very much!

  3. hello karl
    As always i just love to watch n note down all the details given by you well thanks for clear teaching dont feel like its a video still wish to see you face to face karl one day😌
    i have a questions
    1. what if i have props in the background how can i then get plain or pure white background ?
    2. if i need to shoot with model and i need full size (top to bottom)photo of her with some props in her hand ,then how do i achieve white bg without shadows ?
    3. many a times whenever i try to achieve white bg then colour of the clothes changes , mostly light colours changes , also white clothes or any clothes with white more in it blends , can you please guide what should i do to get same colours…
    4. i have only two light with me plus room is small , what more equipments i need to become better pls suggest *(godox 400k 2 light )
    is these light good or need to change

    thank you😊

    1. Hi,
      1. Yes but you need to have a greater distance to separate your white background from your props, you can’t have props against the white background unless you are willing to accept the shadows from the props on your background. Alternatively you can use a different lighting method for the background similar to this one – https://karltayloreducation.com/class/how-to-use-continuous-led-lighting-for-packshot-photography/
      2. This video should answer this one – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCErNYWS5CI
      3. The colours should not change at all as long as you’re white background is white and you are using neutral lighting and best to use a colour checker card – see these classes – https://karltayloreducation.com/class/how-to-use-a-colour-checker-card/
      https://karltayloreducation.com/class/photographing-white-products-white-background/
      4. I’m afraid you need 2 more lights at least to get good white backgrounds and to be able to light your subjects. The power of the lights you have is fine it’s just what you are trying to do can’t be done efficiently with just 2 lights.

      1. Thank you so much

        1 should i buy same 400k or other ones any suggestions on that…
        2 and also umbrella will be better as modifiers or any other ….

        1. Hi,
          1. buying the same 400J should be perfectly ok
          2. Softboxes are generally better for product/still life work but a good white reflective umbrella can still be useful.

          You will see in the classes I listed the type of modifiers I’m using.

  4. Hi Karl,

    So now you have achieved a clean white background by keeping the lights at a distance, where will you place your subject to be photographed? Same location where the dummy is? If so, will you use more lights to light up the subject and when you do so will it affect the background?

    And how to do this in a much tighter space?

    Thanks,
    Jyothi

    1. Hi, Jyothi yes in the same place but it would depend on what you are photographing for example the methods of creating a white background for product photography are different to people photography and there are also other methods for creating more evenly lit solid colour backgrounds. If you can explain what you want to do and the space you have to work then maybe I can offer some advice.

      1. I don’t have a specific use case for this right now, but I am trying to learn. I do come across situations where I feel like I want a nice clean background, but I was never able to achieve it. I am currently doing newborn photography in a 10ftX15ft space. I am not a pro photographer by any stretch, I am learning, I want to get there.

  5. karl does this apply for product photography as well? specially silver jewellery like necklaces with a lot of holes…

  6. Hello Karl,

    What an amazing course content. Am in love with each of the session(module).

    Quick question : what software do you use while doing photography?

    Is it capture one ? Or Lightroom ?

    I am using Sony A73 with ELINCHROM Master RX lights.

    Please advice.

    Thank you,
    Vivek from INDIA

    1. Hi Vivek, thank you for your comments. I’m using Phocus software by Hasselblad it’s very similar to Capture One.

  7. Hello Karl,

    Thanks for all your wonderful photography videos! In this video, I noticed you used poly boards to reduce the light bouncing back onto Stiffany’s face. Would increasing the shutter speed be an option to reduce the light spilling on her or this is not a good option as it would affect the white background as well?

  8. Loving the course Karl. been dipping into your stuff on YouTube for years and decided to take the leap into your Education Site. Incredible teaching skills. I salute you.

    My question concerning the above….
    After you moved the boards into place, you mentioned that the side facing the wall was white (and the side facing studio black to absorb reflected light from studio). So far, so good.
    What i was wondering was that the effect on your measured white level didn’t seem to increase after the shot. I was expecting that light would have been re-reflected from the white inner panels back to the wall and increased the level. Is it because of the falloff being so dramatic due to the distance between the boards and the wall – or is it because that light reflected wasn’t going to be a huge issue?

    Just trying to understand better what actual effect the boards had on the luminosity because of the white-side facing the background wall.

    Cheers!

    1. Hi, thank you for joining us, you will be very interested in this class which among other things also shows you how to create the most perfectly evenly lit backgrounds especially where necessary such as plain colours. In this class I put the polyboards in to reduce flare at around 11mins into this video, this wasn’t to increase light on the background? I’m not sure at which point in the video you are referring to, if you could note that time in the video and I’ll take a look?

      1. Thanks for the replay.

        After the 1/2 stop drop in light power (to take you down from potentially blowing out 100%+ white) confirmed during your check at 3:51 on the clip, you then move the boards into place – white side in at approx 11:00. (as you say -blocking light reflecting from the room but ‘keeping more light bouncing around’ between the wall and the polyboard white surface now facing it)

        After this you took your ‘final’ shots. I was expecting to see the white background increase significantly in percentage value- but as you showed – it only increased about 2%. That surprised me. I was anticipating you would need to drop power on the lights again to reign in the white levels.

        So my question is , was that only tiny increase due to the distance between the boards and the wall – or was it largely the physics of reciprocal falloff to thank for keeping you below 100% white?

        1. Hi Graham, yes as the lights were pointing at the wall and the distance of the boards from the wall the increase in exposure was very minimal. I would have expected it to be a bit more having recapped on the video. Also sorry in my earlier comment I didn’t provide the link to the class I meant – https://karltayloreducation.com/class/live-photography-workshop-creative-portrait-lighting-2-0/ As you say it inverse square law fall off would have been a large part of it with the lights facing at the wall and their distance relative to the boards. Obviously what we filmed is what happened and as the photographer you can only work with the physical results of what you see and measure as long as no other paramaters have changed and undertaking one change at a time then the results should be accurate.

          1. Thanks. I understand better now. This has all been immensely helpful to me.
            To use an analogy – sometimes you have to play the cards as they fall – even if there are a few ‘jokers’.

            The physics of light has long eluded me, and too often that lack of understanding on my part has led to a lot of ‘spray and pray’ – with the inevitable poor results. But after working through your ‘understanding light’ syllabus and trying some tests during lockdown – I’m now hopelessly obsessed by it.

            So nice and thoughtful of you to take the time to reply in person – even over the weekend. I realise how busy this superb level of client service must keep you – but as I see on your courses and in your work, ‘go the extra mile’ is obviously forged into your mindset. Just know that it’s very much appreciated. Have a great weekend.

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