Muslin backdrops buyers guide
There are a few things to take into consideration when buying a backdrop on eBay. Most important is the quality - it needs to be thick & seamless to work well.
Seamless - this is very important for any backdrop being used for photography or video work - and looks more professional as a gig backdrop too. Many of the cheap backdrops, especially those sold by non specialist sellers have am ugly seam down the middle. This may not be visible in their product shot in ebay as they are small shots and lit to disguise this. However the seam will be annoyingly visible in most SLR camera or video portrait / product shots and this requires a lot of extra editing work to make it disappear. Seamed backdrops are usually very thin fabric (similar to cheap bed sheets) that will appear translucent under many lighting conditions. All muslin is somewhat see through, however this will not be an issue with a quality backdrop with appropriate lighting.
Sizing - This does depend on the use you will put the backdrop to.
For people - 3x6m is great for portaits. It allows completely covering the floor and one wall of an average to large sized bedroom to give you a rough idea. I am a portrait photographer so will describe a typical portrait setup
Subject - approx 2m high - so the backdrop needs to be substantially taller - at least 2.5m allowing for perspective, a ceiling in an average room is 2.5-2.8 m high.
Distance between subject & backdrop - 1.5m is ideal so that the person will be in focus while the backdrop is pleasantly out of focus to hide small wrinkles etc
Subject depth - 0.5m for singles, 1m for groups
Fabric in front of subject - 1m is recommended to cover the bottom of the shot comfortably
TOTAL length- 5.5 - 6.0 m
Width - For a group portrait or a shot lying down you will need 3m to allow for the perspective difference between the person (approx 2m) and the background further behind.
For smaller subjects less than 1m high e.g. many items sold on eBay you may get away with 2x3m but these are definitely not big enough for anything larger so are quite limiting.
Muslin does have woven texture so may not be the best for closeups of small objects (less than 30cm or so). Paper has a much smoother texture so is easier to work with if you want a smooth background for macro shots.
Black or grey - very versatile, can be lit with coloured gels / filters for a different effect. The further the backdrop is from your subject the darker & smoother it will photograph.
White - a classic clean look, great for portraits & ebay products shots. Should be lit by one or two lights behind the subject to photograph 100% white.
Pink, red, yellow, orange brown, purple etc give a nice warm effect, different colours provide a different feel. Often harder to find so you may have to order them.
Chromakey blue and green - designed for still and video photography to make separating the subject and inserting it into another scene easy i.e. "cut and paste". You may need both colours as its much easier to use a blue backdrop if your subject has a shade similar to chromakey green in it and vica versa.
Patterns - great for a softer 'pixiphoto' effect, colour depends on the effect you want. Greys can be lit with coloured gels for a different effect.
Scenic backdrops - a wide range is available, both indoor and outdoor scenes. These are a specialized item so are often made to order
Backdrop stands Need to be strong and versatile, you don't want the stand falling on someone, so they need to be substantial and not come apart if tugged. The better ones assemble without the need of the dreaded Ikea style hex / allen key - imagine getting to a gig and not being able to use your backdrop as the hex key has gone missing.
Care of backdrops
A good quality backdrop is machine washable and can be ironed. If you don't have room for a 3m wide roll of fabric then they are better
stored scrunched rather than folded as small randomly positioned wrinkes are much less obvious than heavy fold marks.
Muslin studio backdrops / backgrounds camera video SLR
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3 December 2008
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