Your Ideal Background Is Right in Front of You: Using a Monitor as a Backdrop

I've spent a lot of money on backgrounds, and while for photographing humans, it's certainly the way to go, for product photography, sometimes, the solution is sitting right in front of your face. I mean that in the most literal of senses, as in your computer monitor.

Photographer and YouTuber Martin Botvidsson not only shares some good tips about hard lighting versus soft lighting but also caps the tutorial with an interesting twist of using his monitor as a background for his business card photographs. It's this part of the technique that most resonated with me because it's something I've often done myself, though I've felt quite guilty doing it, perhaps less so now.

I've even gone so far as to keep a folder labeled "Bokeh" on my computer that I've filled with interesting shots featuring lots of bokeh balls. If I see a great pattern of lights somewhere, I'll purposely throw my camera way out of focus just to get the shot for the folder. It's also a way to fake a much shallower depth of field than your lens is capable of. Don't have the room or lens to quite get what you want? Time to take it to the monitor. That said, it's the very reason why I've often felt this technique has been cheating when it comes to photography. I do make it a point to use backgrounds that I've shot, though, instead of just downloading something from the internet.

While it's often tricky to balance ambient light with the light from the monitor, having a good set of lights and a keen eye for technique is key, as Botvidsson demonstrates how he's able to retain texture on the business card while also capturing the monitor's background in his photo. A fun trick he uses is to make edits on the fly to match what he's shooting.

I've frequently put the technique to use for product photography even here on this site. Witness this Canon EOS 90D here:

That's an iMac in the background with some bokeh balls pulled up on the display.

Do you use this technique in your photography? Share any of your tips or photos in the comments below.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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