One thing I get asked a lot when I show behind-the-scenes pics revolves around lighting in conjunction with using a screen or monitor for backgrounds. So I thought I’d try to shed some light…on how not to shed light on your backdrop!
If you’ve tried digirama – that is, using a computer monitor or TV with an image on it as a backdrop for a photo, you may have run into the issue of your lights creating bright hotspots, reflections, or shadows on the screen. Screens, of course, are reflective by nature – some more than others depending on whether or not it has a matte screen or a glossy, reflective screen. Let’s take a look at a typical setup.
This is a recent shot I did for a Sherlock & Watson figure review. The background is a stock image from a paid service. I’m using three light sources here; a key light coming from the top right side, a rim light to the left and the light from the LED candle prop. And, of course the screen itself produces some light in the back.
In the image above you can see the uncorrected lightsources hitting the screen and reflecting. Which reflections are going to be a problem is generally determined by their distance and the angle you’re shooting at.
So how do we prevent this reflection? You could move the lights until they no longer interfere with your framing, but that will change or limit your lighting choices. One of the easiest ways to correct this is by “flagging” the light. Photographers use the term “flag” to describe anything solid that blocks light from hitting certain parts of a scene. This can be anything from a small card to a large piece of material. They are opaque and generally flat black in color. In my studio, I have many pieces of black foam core and cardboard in lots of sizes to fit any situation.
More Helpful Flagging Accessories
Occasionally, you’ll find you need something more flexible than cardstock. You may need to create a cone around a light or be able to bend the flag to allow a little light into one area and block it in another. You can use a flexible piece of cardstock, but I’d recommend getting a roll of photo foil. This is a flat black foil that can be shaped to fit around the permitter of a light fixture, to cover part or most of the light to reduce the output, or bent to make a self-standing flag. There are a lot of uses for this stuff and pieces can be reused many times so one roll can last quite a long time.
Another great, and cheap item to have are small “A” clamps like the one shown here. You can buy these online or at hardware stores for a couple dollars each. Clamp one or two these to a piece of foam board and you have a cheap, sturdy stand for reflecting or flagging.
Placing the Flags
In the image below, I’ve placed a black card between the Lumecube on the left and the screen and the key light Lumecube in the front-right. The front card needs to be able to be angled to allow enough light to hit the subjects but block the light from reflecting off the background. I have it on a stand with a clamp, but this is another place where lightweight photo foil would work very well. The white card on the right that I’m using to bounce some light is far enough away that it will not reflect on the screen but that is also something you need to consider if you’re using reflectors.
Keep in mind that, even those these are black, they still reflect some light, so they may affect your camera settings to some degree.
In this shot, I’m also using a small LED candle prop, which is also reflecting in the screen. It’s a small reflection that I could remove in Photoshop afterward, but it’s not always easy with intricate backgrounds like this (if it were clouds, for example, that would be much easier.) So how to keep it from reflecting? My solution was to cut a small piece of electrical tape to fit around the back half of the bulb. I get the light in front and eliminate the reflection
Finally, what is the last thing on the camera side that may reflect on the screen? That would be you. Ideally, you’ll have a shutter remote, or set the timer on the camera or phone and get out of the way, or just place yourself low enough so that you’re out of the picture – literally. Even if you’re shooting in a completely dark room (which, unless you’re using flash, you should be), you may have some items – glass or even a bright wall behind you – that might create some issues. In that case, you can get a large piece of black cardstock or foam board and hold it behind the camera when you shoot (which will also hide you). Anything that reflects on the camera side (a chrome/silver tripod for instance) should be covered with something to cut the reflection.
Another great tool for digirama, if you’re using a DSLR, is a circular polarizer. These are usually inexpensive ($20-40) filters that help reduce/adjust the brightness and pixelization (somewhat) of the screen. These are used mainly for outdoor shooting to reduce the glare of the sun, but are very useful in studio when using a digital background as well. It allows you to literally dial back the brightness of the background if it’s throwing off too much light. Generally, you can adujust the brightness/settings on the screen you’re using, but if you still can’t get the right levels or don’t want to touch the settings (if you’re using the family TV for instance), this will be a big help.
If you use Lume Cubes or some types of other rechargeable, portable lights, you can get things like barn-door or snoot attachments to control the lights direction. These can come in handy for digirama as well, but you may still get a little light bleed when using these. Some elecrtical tape can be a temporary solution.
Someone suggested to me using anti-glare spray to coat a monitor to cut down on the glare. It’s an interesting theory, but one I haven’t tried. My worry would be that it would also cut down on the clarity and colors on-screen. You may, however, try a monitor that has an anti-glare screen to begin with.
Get Lighting and Shooting!
As with everything, the best way to learn is to do. Reference this article the next time your trying out a digital backdrop and DM me on IG (@onesix_shooter) and let me know if these tips helped out!
In case you were interested, here’s the resultig shot.
Trevor is a New York-based Creative Director and owner of The Brand Counselors. He has a growing collection of 150ish 1:6th scale stock and custom figures (and more and more Lego sets). Toy photography melds his childhood dreams of comic book illustration and film directing with his design talents and – in his mind – justifies the ridiculous money he spends on these things. When he’s not shooting, he enjoys kayaking, catching up on good TV and building seemingly endless custom figures.
Last modified: September 23, 2019