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Fabrics and photography

Backdrops and more from fabrics


Meter the subject as if the lace was not there
Meter the subject as if the lace was not there

Looking for an inexpensive, versatile backdrop for a portrait? Need a non-reflective background or a rich-looking surface cover for a product shot? Would you like to make your own diffusion filter?

Visit your local fabric store and amaze yourself with the richness of materials available there to improve your photography.

Here are some examples and ideas for the use of fabrics in your photography:


FAKE FUR & VELOUR

These are plush materials available in a variety of colors and patterns – can be used to convey a sense of comfort or softness, such as you might require for baby pictures. Fake fur is often available in animal skin patterns - spotted to resemble a cowhide or leopard skin, for example. Velour can be stretched, a characteristic that may be useful in figure photography or to create an interesting backdrop.


The light-absorbing, non-reflective characteristic of black velvet makes it ideal for a completely-dark background
The light-absorbing, non-reflective characteristic of black velvet makes it ideal for a completely-dark background

BLACK VELVET

The non-reflective quality of black velvet or velveteen make these fabrics ideal when you need a light-absorbing, deep dark background.

The nap of these fabrics also helps to conceal the shadow cast by your subject.

Many different shades of velvet or velveteen are available to provide you with great background variety. As you can see by the inordinate number of pictures here featuring black velvet, it is one of our favorite fabrics and finds a great deal of use in the studio and on location.


A deep black background can be very dramatic, and can be used over and over without fear of boredom, unless your subject is boring. This is because a black background is neutral. It doesn't draw your eye away from the subject, but gives the feeling of drama. The same effect could not be achieved with a fluorescent tangerine fabric backdrop, since it would quickly result in overkill.

When using a very dark background like the one provided by black material, it is important to not allow it to influence your light meter reading. When you take a reflected light exposure reading of your subject in front of the background, take it from a very short distance away so the subject fills the viewframe. Your exposure meter will read the light from your subject and not from the darker background. The black background has no effect on an ambient light meter reading, since the light falling on, not reflected from your subject is being read.

A black fabric background contributes to a dramatic look.
A black fabric background contributes to a dramatic look.

Colorful, patterned fabric can make a photograph seem homey and warm
Colorful, patterned fabric can make a photograph seem homey and warm

PRINTED FABRICS

Tie-dye and other printed fabrics can be used to wrap around objects that serve as props when their designs match the theme of your shoot. They make excellent backdrops when you want the backdrop to tie into the subject, and can also serve as colorful, casual wraps for models, or as a fake, but effective, table cloth for a food setting.

SATIN

Satin is luxuriously reflective and comes in a great selection of rich shades that convey a sense of quality to a product photographed on them.

POLAR FLEECE

Made from polyester but still remarkably thick and soft, polar fleece comes in tons of colors and patterns. This is the material on which to place a baby if you want to convey warmth and real softness. It’s a little more expensive, but it is colorfast and washable, and will last a long time.

FELT

The material used on pool tables, felt is non-reflective but looks great under bright lights. It shows shadows well. Available in a rash of bright and country colors, felt can provide a dead flat, wrinkle-free surface for photography of small or large objects. It can be bonded to a curved surface, which makes it very useful for seamless backdrops.


CHIFFON

A light, airy material, chiffon seems to float in the air. Think of silky scarves, and imagine a long piece of chiffon held lightly by a model, flowing lightly in the breeze from a fan or a zephyr. It is a beautiful, semi-transparent material that, when used a prop, can add delicate and graceful dynamics to a scene.

CANVAS

For large, inexpensive backdrops, canvas (cotton with a little bit of polyester) is available in widths up to 96", and of course almost any length. Although it cannot be dyed like muslin (because it has no fibre to accept dye), it can be painted to create your own patterned or colored backdrops.

TULLE

Tulle, a fine net-like material, can create a cloud-like effect when placed around a subject photographed against a seamless backdrop. It is available in many colors, but because of its fineness, tulle photographs as if it were a light shade of pastel, which lends subtlety to your photographs. This material can also be used to make a soft focus filter.

LAME

Lame (pronounced “lamay”) is a shiny metallic fabric that is highly reflective and can serve as a reflective backdrop or a shiny material to drape over a model.

NOTES ON BUYING FABRIC

Fabric is sold by the yard (metres in Canada and Europe) and averages 44" to 45" in width, with some fabrics being available in widths of 60" and sometimes 72". Satin or tulle are typically 60" wide. 44" provides an adequate backdrop for most headshots and close-in, individual portraits. You should purchase the material in a generous length, seven or eight feet for a backdrop, to ensure versatility.

The parallel lines of this fabric draw the eye into the picture and contribute liveliness to this commercial image
The parallel lines of this fabric draw the eye into the picture and contribute liveliness to this commercial image
Further information...

Hanging a fabric backdrop
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