How to Create a Moody DIY Set in a Plain White Studio

Breathing new life into your studio space shoot after shoot doesn't have to be difficult and it doesn't have to be expensive. With just a few simple DIY tricks, it's actually pretty easy to transform a plain white studio space into a stunning set. 

My goal for this shoot was to take our simple white studio space and create a dramatic dark image with our model using some tricks I picked up shooting our tutorial with Clay Cook. The first step was to change the look of the set. For the background, I chose to add a medium brown cloth backdrop that has a nice texture to it. To give some dimensionality to the set I added a piece of foam core from Home Depot which I had painted with chalk paint. Finally, to hide the white floor space, I spread out a cloth backdrop on the ground and slid some sandbags under the cloth to give it some extra shape. 

Lighting

With set was built, I had the model sit on a stool and staged the lighting. I set up a 3-foot octabox on a boom stand with a Profoto B1 and put it camera left, the direction my model was facing. Putting the light close to my subject meant that the light would fall off quickly from her face to her lower body. 

Placing the light so close to my model definitely brought the right mood to the image but the as you'll notice from the picture, the background is almost completely lost. To help bring out some of the texture on my foam core, I added another light with a 10-degree honeycomb grid on it to keep the light contained to a small area on the background.

With my background where I wanted it to be, my attention was next draw to the floor. The background cloth that I had covered the ground with was a little lighter in color than I would have liked. Although I could easily darken this in post-processing, I wanted to diminish the amount of light that was hitting the ground so I added a black card to cut off as much light as possible from spilling downward, while also maintaining the light I had on the models face. 

The final touch was to bring out cut out the models leg and dress from the background a little more. I added a third light with a small softbox slightly behind her leg and dress and kept it on a low power setting. 

With the lighting all set, I dropped my camera a little lower to bring emphasize the texture of the floor and give the model a more empowering pose. We shot a bunch of frames to nail the final pose and I chose my favorite to edit. 

The Final Shot

In post, I cleaned up the model's skin and touched up some spots on the background, then added a final look to the image using Alien Skin. 

When you see this image, it's hardly obvious it was shot in our standard white studio space. All it takes to create a mood like this is a little creativity with set building and backdrop materials. Hopefully, this inspires you to try something new on your next studio shoot.

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14 Comments

Johnny Rico's picture

Dude that's poly board, not foam-core, my feelings.

Patrick Hall's picture

What is poly board? I've never heard it called that before. This was essentially the same board you use for those 5th grade science projects.

Johnny Rico's picture

Was referencing the 4x8' panel around the one minute mark. Anyways, it was meant in jest. Good content in the video.

Patrick Hall's picture

Ah, that's actually insulation board used in attics and walls here in the US. You can find it at any home building store.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Patrick, could you please criss-cross your camera strap? I am watching the video nervously hoping the camera does not slip off your shoulder :-)

Patrick Hall's picture

I always wear my camera off one arm like that....unless I'm walking in a busy area where crime could be an issue. It never falls off 🤷🏻‍♂️

Motti Bembaron's picture

If it works for you, great. Anything with a strap I criss-cross. When relying on one shoulder you raise the shoulder to hold the strap, bad for the back.

Nice video. Cheers.

Arber Elezi's picture

Cool, Love it

Spy Black's picture

Some nice info there, thanks. Funny, I've been thinking of making some micro sets for a series of comps I've been working on forever. That foam core board can be useful. Does it come any thicker?

Dan Howell's picture

Foamcor comes in various thickness, but it is not advisable to paint it. Paint will cause the side to shrink slightly causing a curve to the board that will not press out. I've seen 1/2" boards bow to the point of cracking. They are good for one or two shoots, but that make for somewhat costly single use set material. There are better materials that are suitable for painting and longer lasting. I will frequently change the color of Foamcor sheets by spray gluing seamless paper or with self-adhesive wallpaper (traditional wet-glue wall paper will also bow Foamcor). 1" thick Foamcor is resistant to bowing but it is $122 for 4x8' sheet.

Johnny Rico's picture

If you are talking about what he's using @ 1:05, it's polyboard. I can get up to 2" thick local, "Expanded Polystyrene Foam Insulation", may come thicker, not actually sure. It paints really well, and if you run a piece of gaffers around the edges you can help it last longer.

Beautiful work and great tutorial

Jay Jay's picture

Without sounding too jerky (because i'm really not, i promise), the best way to do a moody set in a white studio is to... cover up all the white with by adding dark backdrops to both the wall and floor and add some foamcore?

You're technically not shooting a moody set in a plain white studio, but completely removing all white and replacing it with dark tones, no? Yes, it's not obvious it was shot in a white studio, but that's because the white was all replaced, which is normally done using paper roll backdrops already set up in most studios. (Including mine, thanks charcoal grey seamless)

Was just curious, since assuming from the title, the article would show techniques for creating moody looks in a studio that's still white.

Grat video, nice photo.