How I Shot This With a Cheap and Unimpressive Looking Backdrop

How I Shot This With a Cheap and Unimpressive Looking Backdrop

Photography can become ridiculously expensive with gear and props and all the other necessities. So when there is a chance to save, I save!

This shoot was planned really last minute as the model was in Singapore for only a short amount of time so I didn’t really have the luxury to come up with a strong concept. Deciding to do away with my usual plain backdrop, I remembered I had some shiny red paper stored away that I had bought on a whim for $1 a piece. So, I did a little arts and crafts and taped them all together. Honestly, it looked like a kid did it, but I knew it was going to be good enough for photography with lights and magic to turn it into a fabulous background. I taped it up to two C-Stands and voila, new backdrop!

Equipment List

Lighting Setup

We did not have much time to shoot due to logistical issues, so I used Exlixxier’s newly upgraded software, set.a.light 3D, to plan my lighting more accurately during hair and makeup time. I absolutely love this software! It helps me come with lighting setups so much faster and I'm able to see how certain modifiers would affect the set without actually having to set them up only to not use them.

As the paper was made out of reflective material, I knew I needed a light shining on it to show off the texture and shine. I had one light on the left, top down shining straight onto the backdrop. For main light, I used a beauty dish, because it’s an easy go-to light that’s flattering. Wanting to push the mood even more, I had two lights from the back shining on each side of the model, covered with red cellophane paper (I ran out of color gels). For one of them, I used a white umbrella facing away for a softer look, while on the other, I used my Profoto A1 because it was so easy to set up.

Here’s a BTS for a clearer look. Ignore the shoe I used for model placement.

Even though we only had an hour and a half to shoot, we managed to bang out four looks anyway, and I really like these images! I am really happy I trusted my instincts that day and decided to actually buy those papers.

Closing

What are your cheap buys that have been useful in your photoshoots? Put down in the comments and let us know!

Photographer: Shavonne Wong
Model: Mia Sabathy
Makeup: Benji Oo and Xuan
Wardrobe: Violet Foo

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67 Comments

Shavonne Wong's picture

Indeed! I'm just in the midst of planning a shoot with mylar background too! Sometimes new photographers just gotta understand, it's all about how it looks in camera... even if it looks like crap in real life hahaha.

Elan Govan's picture

Shavonne, I just read the equipment list used during this photo-shot, and they all seem expensive. If the idea was to go cheap, I am more than happy to loan you my Canon EOS 300D for your next exotic shoot on the cheap. Photography using natural day light is even better, its free.

I'm tempted to automatically thumbs down your erroneous and off topic statement but I'm curious what you think the 4 ways are?

Shavonne Wong's picture

Cheap... backdrop. Honestly, you can likely do the same thing with cheaper flashes and cameras. I used a Canon 5Dmk2 for 7 years of my professional career along with lights from China. I didn't always have all these expensive equipment but when I can use them, obviously I will.

Elan Govan's picture

Hey,I buy speed-lite made in China as well and they are very well made and reliable. As for the Canon 5D Mk 2, have the shutter changed soon, it will last another couple more years.

So really, the story is not all about cheap backdrop is it? Its about utilising what ever you can get your hands on at short notice to get the job done.

Shavonne Wong's picture

I only recently upgraded out of my 5Dmk2 because the tethering port was spoilt and it didn't make sense getting it repaired anymore. Otherwise, I'm 100% certain this would have been done with that camera.

As for the point of this article, well yes it was about utilizing whatever you have on hand.. but what I had on hand WAS that cheap backdrop.
When I was first starting out in photography, those papers wouldn't have been something I would have noticed at the shop because I didn't know the potential behind it and they looked kinda drab in real life. That's the point of this article, even cheap things like this backdrop paper can produce great results.

Elan Govan's picture

I will write my photographic journey via private communication Shavonne. Putting a side the leg pulling, you are doing great creative work. All the best.

amplighter's picture

*FacePalm* Do it again.. but this time use a cheap disposable camera. You've used cheaps stuff as your back drop etc, So why not use several different cameras to prove ANYONE can take this shot without spending 5K for a 50MP camera..

Shavonne Wong's picture

I could, but the point of the article was that if you shine a light at cheap shiny paper, you can get a pretty cool backdrop. Doesn't matter how expensive your camera is.
I worked hard to have the current gear I have so I'm gonna use them but this whole setup can be replicated easily. That's why I wanted to show it the setup, not talk about equipment.

If I don't put up an equipment list, people ask about equipment. If I do put it up, people complain.
It's not about the gear!

amplighter's picture

Just another reason people like you give false hope to people like me, in not being able to achieve the same results because we're not able to afford a 5K camera like yours. Thus I'll no longer respond to anymore of your articles. Work with me, not against me. Treat me like an equal by using the same gear I do. Go out buy a cheap 35mm or point and shoot and do it again..

Shavonne Wong's picture

Hahaha that's funny, tell another one!

If you like your gear - don’t ask others to use it. Write your articles on how you use it to make great photos.

PS: It’s not a camera that matters.

PPS: It’s lenses ;)

Shavonne Wong's picture

Haha my lens are the cheapest versions of the 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and 100mm.
But they are all pretty great lens if you ask me!

I don't know why people aren't getting that it was about making even incredibly cheap paper look great as a backdrop. Harping on the expensive equipment is pointless when it is SO not what the damn article is about. These people need comprehension skills. Great article.

Craig Beckta's picture

This is pretty cool, thanks for sharing.

Shavonne Wong's picture

My pleasure! Glad you like it!

Well I find this article very helpful, ignore those ingrates. Thank you for freely share all these information!

Shavonne Wong's picture

Appreciate it, thank you!

I bought piece of the 4x6 wall insulation that works great as reflector. Since it is rigid it works better than lot of fabric reflectors

Shavonne Wong's picture

Yeah I tried using a mylar raincoat as a reflector... didn't work out too well! Haha.
Bonus points to the wall insulation if it was cheap!

Leigh Miller's picture

Good idea..

Shavonne Wong's picture

Thank you! Glad you found it helpful (:

Yan Pekar's picture

The background does look cheap and unimpressive, to be honest. And distracting viewer's attention from the portrait. If the point of the photo shoot was to show how to create a portrait using cheap materials then what was the point of using 4 expensive Profoto flashes?? If you are already using expensive gear, why would you want to ruin the results by using a cheap backdrop? It is also possible to create much better results with using less flashes and less expensive gear.

Yan Pekar's picture

This is clear. The QUESTION was - what is the point of using cheap background and ruin results if you are already using expensive gear. It does not make any sense.

Yan Pekar's picture

It is funny that you are speaking on behalf of all the photographers in the world:) No reason to be aggressive or defensive. We are here to exchange opinions.

Yan Pekar's picture

Very rude reply. Looks like you were too fast to post it, without giving yourself a chance to think before pressing "Post" button. All the best.

Shavonne Wong's picture

I used 4 expensive Profoto flashes because... I have them. You have to understand, this shoot was for my own portfolio, I just decided to share some BTS and know how on process of getting the images. Why should I downgrade on gear I worked hard for?
I also never said it was impossible without cheaper gear. In fact, it is very much possible. That's why this wasn't a article on gear.

And fine this might be subjective but I like the end results of how the shine of the backdrop add to the images. So it all worked out for me.

Yan Pekar's picture

Photography is a communication language. If you have to explain the final result to other people then maybe the message you were trying to communicate via your article or photo was not clear. As for the final result - human eyes are build in such a way that first of all we see the brightest parts of an image. There is a very bright spot on the left side (which takes a lot of negative space) of your image, and it distracts attention from the portrait. It may worked out for you, but if you are shooting for a client, the question you may consider asking is "did it work out for my client?". Although it is understandable that you used expensive lights because you have them, using a cheap backdrop devalued the usage of expensive lights as overall the image looks cheap. Sorry for the truth.

Shavonne Wong's picture

You say it looks cheap, a potential cosmetics client is inquiring after seeing the images. I guess I'm glad they're the one I didn't have to explain my photo to and you're the one who finds it cheap.

Yan Pekar's picture

It is great that the images helped you to find a potential client. All the best with it, and I wish you that the client will book your services. I had no intention to offence your feelings, I just told you the truth - the image does look cheap and lacks aesthetics. This is, of course, only my opinion, and I do not expect you to agree with it. It is perfectly fine to disagree, especially taking into account all the efforts and time you put in to create it. It does help to listen to other people opinion rather than being overly defensive. When you post an image publicly, you should be ready for critics. It helps us grow and become better. All the best to you.

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