Studio backgrounds can be either expensive, boring, or both. However, with small adjustments you can make them look far more cinematic and interesting.
As with most things in photography, manipulation of light can easily separate the amateurs from the experts. I've noticed over the years that my eye for a good photograph has changed and the criteria I look out for are slightly different to when I had just started out with a camera. For example, rather than looking for interesting scenes, I primarily look out for interesting light. If you can find both, you're on to a winner straight away.
However, in controlled environments, it's easy to become jaded with the sort of images you're producing. Even from my commercial product work, I quickly grew tired of the results I was creating when I first started. The two things I changed were backgrounds and light. The difference an interesting background can make — even if heavily blurred — is profound. Similarly, by using light modifiers and altering the angle of the lights, or even adding more to complicate the setup, I was able to create far more appealing results.
In this video, Gavin Hoey of Adorama goes over how he uses lights to improve his studio backdrops. The standout favorite for me is without a doubt the shaft of light he creates using a narrowly firing strobe close to the background. What tips do you have for avoiding dull studio images?