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How to Shoot Black Background Photography: 9 Tips

Imagine having a huge, framed black background photo in your living room or a black background wallpaper on your computer. Isn’t it stunning? Photographs with black backgrounds almost always look artistic, moody, and sophisticated. They take your eyes right to the subject without any distractions.

Also, black backgrounds work for many types of subjects. From portraits to food and wildlife, it adds drama to every photo.

Want to take picture-perfect black background photos? Here are some tips to succeed.

1. Choose Your Background Wisely

Placing your subject against a dark background is the most straightforward way to get a black background. But, if you are going for that pitch-black background, you need to pay attention to the type of background you choose. Backgrounds with patterns, textures, or blemishes can ruin the look you want. These can be especially visible if your subject is very close to the background.

A professional photography backdrop is an excellent investment if you frequently shoot black background photography. The next best option is a black reflector which you might already have. If you want to go the DIY route, opaque black paint on wood or other smooth surfaces works well.

2. Add Negative Fill

Do you usually add a white reflector to bounce some light onto your subject and fill in the shadows? That is a positive fill technique. So, you do the opposite for negative fill—add a black reflector to take away some light and add shadows.

Adding negative fill is a surefire way to bring your subject alive by accentuating its shapes and contours. In addition, negative fill boosts contrast in your scene and adds edgeness to your image.

3. Adjust Your Camera Settings

You can change the look and feel of your black background photos by manipulating how the light enters your camera. You can do this by either changing your shutter speed or aperture. Remember, your camera must be in Manual, Aperture Priority, or Shutter Priority mode to modify these settings.

When you close down the aperture (higher f-number) or increase your shutter speed, you can deliberately underexpose the scene by allowing less light into your camera. The result? You get much darker photos.

4. Keep an Eye on the ISO

ISO is one of the three variables in the exposure triangle. By adjusting the three variables (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO), you can decide how bright or dark your image is. The job of ISO is to increase the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor. So, with a higher ISO value, your pictures will be brighter. But unfortunately, increasing ISO also introduces artifacts like grain and noise in your photos.

If you have been shooting with a DSLR for a while, you must have heard the golden rule: keep your ISO low. Follow it, it’s crucial in this situation. Grain and noise can spoil your black background photo’s crisp and polished look.

5. Put Your Subject in the Spotlight

Spot metering is one of the metering modes on your camera that will measure the brightness of a specific area in your frame to determine the exposure settings. The other types of metering measure the whole frame or only the center to properly expose your photos.

Since spot metering measures the light falling on your subject only, it works incredibly well to make the background darker when your subject is brightly lit.

6. Tweak Exposure Compensation

When you tweak your camera’s exposure compensation settings, you tell it to override its light meter and intentionally let in more or less light based on your compensation value. So, for example, if you dial down negative compensation, you will get a darker image as your camera will let less light in.

Every camera brand and model has different settings to change the exposure compensation value, so check your camera’s manual to learn how to adjust it.

7. Try Different Lighting Techniques

Artificially lighting the scene is one of the most effective ways to emphasize the subject in your black background photos. Changing the intensity of your flash can give your pictures a different quality. You can achieve this by adjusting the power of your flash or by simply changing the location of your flash—try moving it closer or further to get the desired look.

With TTL flashes, you have the option of High Speed ​​Sync, where you can increase the shutter speed to go above the flash sync speed, which is usually 1/200th or 1/250th of a second. When using High Speed ​​Sync, your flash just throws enough light on the subject to illuminate it, making your background completely dark.

8. Editing Is Your Best Friend

So, you have done all the hard work: carefully chose your subject, painstakingly set up your scene, played around with your lighting and camera settings, and finally snapped your image. But is your photo still lacking that punch? Your job is not done until you apply some TLC to your pictures in post-production software. The good news is, if you follow all our tips from above, you don’t need to spend hours working on your image.

If you get it right in your camera, all you need to do is pull down shadows, increase contrast, and remove any blemishes. And, that is it—your black background photos will shine.

9. Don’t Overdo It

Sometimes, you may not get the look you want because you are outdoors where sunlight can be floating. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right in your camera. You can use heavy-duty editing software like Photoshop or Gimp and bring your vision to life. But, remember, when you add layer after layer and pull slider after slider, it is easy to go overboard and end up with digital art than a photograph.

After considerable editing, are you still finding it hard to get the perfect black background? You may want to add an artificial black background with your editing software.

Learn, Experiment, and Have Fun With Black Background Photography

To pull off a perfect black background photo, you must thoroughly understand your camera settings and lighting essentials. Also, make sure you enjoy the process and don’t shy away from making mistakes. Remember, every time you practice, you are one step closer to capturing breathtaking photos.


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