This past week I finished my fall offering of the second class in my 3-part series of flash classes, Off-Camera Flash: Using One Flash Effectively. For the most part we use the white wall of my basement “studio” as our background, but I also like to show my students my Westcott X-Drop background kit with a black background. I have wanted to get a white background for it, but the after-market price of the Westcott backgrounds is a bit pricey, so I figured I should be able to find material that I can have cut to size (5’X7’ or 1.5m x 2.1m) and save some money. I had a 6’X6’ (1.8m x 1.8m) piece of white felt material that I decided to try. Since this fabric doesn't have the nice grommets that my Westcott background material has, I had to find some clips I could use to hold it to the X-Drop frame. The ones I have ended up using are tarp clips made by Homax (http://bit.ly/tarpclip) that work well because they attach nicely to the corners and center of top end of the background material and then have holes that fit right onto the top hooks on the X-Drop frame. I also have some hanger clips I used to use to dry negative strips from when I had a home darkroom that I pressed into service to use at the bottom of the material.
I am pursuing this whole background thing not just for my flash classes but for my own flash shooting of subjects. I know that I can use a white background and turn it totally black or shades of gray all the way back to plain white. Thus, my desire to have a piece of white material to use with my X-Drop frame. First, I experimented with the white felt I had. Wow! It was bad as a simple white background because the dark and lighter parts of the fabric showed up in the shot I took with just one flash. If, however, I threw another source of light (another flash in this case) onto the background material, the background material went totally white and the fabric texture was unnoticeable. But I am trying to illustrate how one can use just one light, so adding that second light is unacceptable.
I decided that the felt material is not going to work for what I want, so I needed to identify a more usable material. I did some web searches to see what other photographers suggested. They, of course, are all over the place, though white muslim seem to be the most commonly recommended material. With that information and my black material Westcott background rolled up in a bag, I headed off to our local JoAnn’s Fabric store. I showed the black material to the store clerk and ask if they had something similar to it. I knew from checking the Westcott site that the material is a custom cotton/polyester blend. The sales clerk immediately suggested a micro fiber material. They had it in may colors, but I just wanted white. The fabric came in 60” (1.5m) width and I wanted a 7’ length (2.1m). The normal price for this micro fiber material is $10.99 per yard (.9m). So, a bit pricey, but still half the price of the backgrounds from Westcott (though, to be fair, their backgrounds come with the grommets for attaching the material to the X-Drop). Lucky for me, though, this material was 50% off and I had a further 25% discount coupon, so I walked away with a 5’ x 7’ sheet for around $10!i
The new micro fiber is much better than the felt was, but it is not pure white. I need to experiment some more with light positioning to see if I can't get it to come out whiter than you see in the comparison shots with this post. Remember, I can do it very easily if I throw some light directly on the background, but the focus of this Off-Camera Flash class is to illustrate how one can get so many different looks with just one speed light!
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