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 often 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 photography class we cover the following:

  • 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

NOTE: This photography class is available with English subtitles.


  1. 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?

  2. 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.


    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 – 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.

    1. Hi Mor, yes. By flashes you mean speedlites then they would give the same neutral results as the studio flashes I’m using here.

  3. Hi Karl,

    Would it be possible to use the technique used in this video tutorial, but instead of using strobes to lighten the background, use continuous LED lights instead? Then light the subject with strobes?


  4. Hi, Karl!

    I have to say that the most important thing I’m learning from your lessons is the way of thinking, the path that takes you from zero to the final shot. I could have the best gear in the world but if I don’t know where to look, they are (almost) useless. Thanks a lot. This is the real value of your classes.

  5. Hi!
    First of all, I would like to say that your courses are fantastic! Thank you for creating such a platform for photography education!
    Now for my question… I understood the whole concept of pure white, but I have heard again and again about making sure that the color of the object is correct.
    How do I check that? Is it related to attaining pure white? And where does the color passport come in?
    Thanks in advance

    1. Hi HC, yes the colour of the object is very important but this has nothing to do with attaining pure white. The colour checker passport is very useful as a reference to see if your colours are accurate (based on the light source you are using to illuminate the subject) you will see it in other product videos and we have a video coming soon that is just about using the colour checker.

      1. Thank you so much for the explanation! Im really enjoying your classes and how well you give over the material! thank you so much!

  6. Hi Karl! Great Lectures AS USUAL! Any chance the color of the subject would affect the background white level whilst on a shoot?

    1. Hi Arjun, very unlikely as white is the brightest value and once you’ve gone to white at 255, 255, 255 adding anymore light of any colour doesn’t do anything.

  7. Hi Karl
    Really useful, thank you.

    I was wondering what the process would be if you wanted a pure black background, is it a similar process in terms of light positioning, distance etc? I ask because I only use a small shed as a studio for small product shots and would like to try a pure black background.

    1. Hi Chris, get black velvet stitch it together to make a big backdrop. Black velvet sucks up loads of light so it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a lot of space.

      1. Brilliant, thanks for the quick response, I’ll give that a go.
        Just to mention, I signed up for the course at the weekend and the amount I have learnt by following the videos in order is quite astonishing. The level of detail you go into is fantastic and you don’t take for granted the viewers skill level and it really is comforting to know that you’re not skimming over things and assuming the audience already knows. Oh, and it goes with out saying your images are incredible, the level of detail to capture one shot is astonishing. It’s so easy to see why you’re at the top of your game.

  8. Hi Karl,
    highest level of photography, it’s what I want and amazingly you doing it. appreciated man.


    1. Hi if you press the info button you will be able to see a histogram but cameras don’t generally tell you the RGB values of a given pixel, this can only be done in the camera RAW processing software or like Lightroom or Photoshop.

  9. Thank you, this was so helpful! Karl, you really have a gift to be able to explain complex issues so simply, thank you!

  10. Thanks so much for letting us in on all your years and wealth of experience and making it so easy to understand.

    I was and still am wondering if it is possible to get pure white background for group or family shots? If yes, is the process the same? How would you manage the light illuminating the background from falling on the group?

    1. Hi, the process is the same but yes you have to be careful your lights don’t spill onto your subject. Barn doors can help.

  11. Hi Karl, I understood everything you tell us, but I have a question. In your camera, what are your settings for your white balance? Thanks for your helps have a nice day

    1. Hi Issac, my white balance setting with my studio flash is 5800-6000K and then I use a colour checker card as a reference shot if I need to adjust the raw file later. The setting of your white balance is always dependent on the light source, you can fully understand the process in this video and then in this one but I would encourage you to watch these first 15 chapters in order, they are the most important learning tools on lighting you will come across.

  12. Hi Karl,
    I have problems with the floor when I shoot full body on white background.
    Should I put additional lights directed to the floor make it lighter?

    1. Hi Niki, Yes additional lighting from above and behind your subject aiming at the floor towards camera. Be careful of flare though by ensuring the lights are out of camera view enough, also be careful that they do not impact your subject.

  13. HI Karl,
    Just new to your site and loving the videos & tutorials!
    I often get asked to do family portraits on white backgrounds where there are sitting directly on the ground of the white background, any tips on how to get a clean white floor as well as the background? Thanks

    1. Hi Justin, you need a large softbox or para or big umbrella behind them above them high up angled at 45 degrees towards the camera and then gradually increase it’s power until the floor comes to the desired level.

  14. Hi dear Karl
    In a small studio
    It’s very difficult to take a full-body shot with a white background
    The model is only 1.5 meters from the background
    The glare was terrific,I had used the mask,Still can’t solve the problem
    Whether the key is the distance between the model and the background?

  15. Can you tell me how to set a pure white background for whole body shoot? Some of the lookbook need a pure white background, from head to toe, also the floor pure white
    as well ! Thank you so much.

  16. Hi Karl, I wonder if you show us in the future how to shoot against a softbox ( I mean using the softbox as your background. Thanks

  17. I suppose I can use this same setup for portraits/headshots also where I’m wanting a pure whit background isn’t it.
    Also thanks for that I have struggled with this same issue of getting a pure whit background you made it look very simple knowing what to do ……. Thanks.

  18. Hi Karl, I am just preparing myself and my gear for a consistent corporate head shot (and eventually three-quarter body) session; my plan is to use two speedlights for a PVC white background, each of them diffused by the same size 80-cm octobox centered towards the centre of the image.
    I’ll have only speedlights at hand, still don’t know what the light stand-to-background distance will be (it all depends on location), anyway I’ll put the two background lights just behind the model so as not to influence or flare against the other lights (I plan a 103-cm silver reflection umbrella on a boom arm at 45 degrees triedral angle, camera-right; a 90×60-cm softbox as a lateral fill light camera-left; a 90×60-cm silver reflector raised up to 70 cm from the floor as bottom fill light and maybe an additional hair light).
    My question is if I can attain the pure white background in the correct way, using two speedlights in softboxes as described above, and what in particular I should pay attention to, besides the aspects that I already absorbed and for which I am very grateful to you.

    1. Hi Bogdan I can’t see any reason why not, I would do a test shot first with just your background lights only though to see the power of the flashes is correct. I’d also use them in manual power mode and just adjust them accordingly.

  19. Karl your teaching is really good and enjoying every minute.
    You mentioned that you are shooting straight into Lightroom tethered in this video but not sure how to do that efficiently. Could you give us some tips please and why do you prefer this to Capture One Pro?

    1. Hi Peter, I generally shoot medium format on a Hasselblad and use the proprietary software know as Phocus. In this course we decided to use only 35mm cameras, Lightroom and the more standard lighting modifiers so that the course would have a wider appeal and be more useful to those using similar equipment. Shooting tethered in LR is quite easy as you just need the right USB cable from your camera and then you choose ‘start tethered capture’ in LR. In fact its kind of a workaround as you still need to have a card in the camera as LR just imports it from the card. Capture One would be a better way to go if your camera is compatible.

  20. Some really useful tips here on an area that I’ve always found difficult. Not having a studio doesn’t help as I would imagine that once you do it performs a little like your own laboratory where you know your base values better. Anyway, great tips! I may find it in your library here somwhere but it would be useful to see this scenario with speedlights and in a smaller setting. Thanks guys

  21. Hi
    I have watched your clips on your tube and have joined your courses, I just wanted to tell you that you are a brilliant teacher and i’m learning so much from you

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