The Perfect Black Backdrop

For the most part, I love the hell out of my photo table. Yes, it’s big and unwieldy and attracts bugs in the summer months, but the nice even lighting and the ability to use uplighting make it all worthwhile.

ShootingTable 1

It’s an excellent way to showcase my builds.

But…I do miss the option to shoot on a different backdrop – like black.

Why? Simple. White is rather strong, tonally, and can introduce a form of tonal crush all its own, obscuring subtle tonal variations in a paint finish. With certain tones – particularly grays – it can also make accurate white balance a pain in the ass, and thanks to the white plexiglass not being a pure white, can make certain grays look too blue, or conversely make itself look too red.

Case in point – the Tamiya F-14 I’m currently working my way through. Take this shot…in which the Dark Ghost Gray seems both too blue, and too dark:

After completely resampling the white balance, I took another go at it…and was happier.

But now the white looks…dingy…and the gray is not pulling through nearly all of the tonal variation going on.

But when you put it on black…

At the exact same exposure – the gray looks far, far more tonally correct, and the subtle variations across the surface more apparent.

The problem is finding a good black backdrop

Posterboard works…decently…but it’s small and confines angles. Bigger posterboards are too stiff – and paper products just do not last long in the garage environment (thanks, humidity).

Photo backdrops that are made out of shit like muslin are right out – those are great for portraits, but not great for a photo table, where the grain shows through.

Ideally I’d be able to find something like a nice big piece of clear, flimsy acrylic – but I’ve only ever found those in clear – and attempts to paint them a black that’s opaque never seem to go well.

I thought I’d found an interesting solution with a big sheet of adhesive vinyl…I mean it does take pretty damn good pictures…

But it also ended up creasing like a bastard on the slope of the photo table, leading to very obvious reflective areas and making me question its durability for ongoing use and storage cycles.


So what say you, readers? Know of a wonderful backdrop material that won’t turn to mush in moderate humidity, that won’t attract every mote of dust and then refuse to let it go? That’s big enough to allow freedom of shot angles (approximately 4 feet by 3 feet would probably work)?

Any ideas? Because I’m running out.


28 Comments Add yours

  1. Shayne says:

    Looks great and the results are excellent….Nice bit of kit there.

  2. Ben says:

    When you store the vinyl, would it work to roll it up with a big sheet of paper on top, all rolled up together. That might stop the creasing?

    1. Doogs says:

      It’s literally lifting from the backing sheet due to the curve – I used the tube it came in to roll it back up and that did work rather well

  3. Geoff Krueger says:

    How about a simple black sheet?

    1. Doogs says:

      Trying to avoid fabrics (dust, rampant spider activity would make keeping it clean a nightmare)

  4. Andy Thatch says:

    Savage Seamless Background Paper. have a look at that.

  5. Asrar Ahmad says:

    Going out on limb , try acrylic sheet . Heat form it into a gentle slope like a back drop. Then paint it gloss or ‘Matt’ black depending on your needs. But it will be bitch to store. Good luck

  6. Andy Thatch says:

    I know that Savage is paper but you could cut the size you need off it, then try and spray it with some Winsor & Newton matt varnish to seal it. and keep the rest of the roll safe in your house someplace. Just a thought.

  7. Mike Tipping says:

    Why not have the black printed on to 3mm or 5mm fomex, you can have the perfect 4 colour black, we use 40%cyan 40% yellow 40% magenta and 100% black, its just the perfect black, you can then have a back and a bottom produced it wipes clean and its easy to store, if you have an anti suff finish it won’t mark

  8. John Everett says:

    Have you tried an aquarium dealer? The back of acrylic aquariums is often an opaque blue or black. It’s glossy, which can be problematic in photography. But you might be able to fill it down with a scrub brush and a sore elbow.

    Plastic supply houses will often stock these materials. Contact one locally. You may be surprised at the range of materials they offer.

  9. ian Holmes says:

    Get a very large sheet of perspex spray in satin black so you have some light back on to the under surfaces (gloss will throw back light and mat will absorb).

  10. Shawn says:

    I use black fabric, go to your local fabric store and find one with a tight weave and flat finish- no satin-

  11. matthew goodman says:

    Black velvet?

  12. Rockie Yarwood says:

    What about neoprene rubber sheet? 1/8″ thickness might hold a nice smooth curve. Might attract dust though…

  13. Perhaps a sheet of black melamine laminate. stuff is thin, will flex to a degree and is easily cleaned.

  14. Ben says:

    I’m adding another vote for savage. I had a role of that in my garage for about 3 years and it was ok. Melbourne can get very humid.

  15. mark housley says:

    I buy cheap black out window roller blinds in plain white approx 30″ 39″ wide with as long a drop as i can find dead easy to set up and i simply roll it up when done i have a few different colours pale blue, white and grey not sure about plain solid black, im sure you could google it or check out eBay.

  16. CJ Martin says:

    Have you considered styrene sheet plastic? You’ll need to paint it, but it is dirt cheap online. For example:

  17. John Southard says:

    Black Felt
    I use black felt in my media room around my projection screen. It absorbs light and haven’t noticed a dust issue. I would think it would make a nice background

    1. Doogs says:

      A media room is far less dust-and-insect prone than a garage though

  18. Bill Weckel says:

    The problem isn’t as much about the material you’re shooting against as it is your lighting. In commercial product photography, shooting an object the size of say a 1/32 or 1/48 scale plane, I would not be using a shooting table because I would want to get the background as far away from the subject as possible and keep my lights from hitting it. I would also be using flash, not continuous lighting, so that I can take longer exposures but not supply light during the entire length of the exposure. Because applying light directly to any black surface (no matter how deeo the black is) is going to turn it to some level of gray, I would handle darkening up the base the model is sitting on in post processing – use a layer mask.

    If you want a highly reflective base, so you can get that “deep black wet” look, you’ll probably have to go the route of acrylic sheet, but use it as the base and don’t roll it to create a sweep. Then, use aperture, shutter speed, and light position to create your black background.

    Stay away from fabric completely. No paper is going to be “true black”. The Savage black paper is a little better than the typical stuff, but is not going to perform when being brightly, and closely, lit. It will still look grey and you’ll still see texture.

    So basically, more working space, less light, more control of where the light falls, and some post processing. HTH

  19. Murad ÖZER says:

    good luck finding an adequate application to our needs tho…

  20. Mathew says:

    Professional photographers always and only use black velvet. It’s a deep black that light does not reflect off. You roll it out and roll up after use. Simple.

    1. Doogs says:

      Yeah and I refuse to use fabric in a garage where dust and spiders are an issue. Good thing I’m not a professional photographer or I’d really be up a creek!

      1. Mathew says:

        store your velvet in the linen closet or somewhere indoors.

    2. billweckel says:

      This is true for portraits, not true for product photography. Velvet cannot be kept lint free and because it is, as you say, so “black”, everything you don’t want in your image shows up. You can edit this out in post, but it’s still a thing.

  21. ted upcott says:

    I haven’t tried it yet, but I was told a light blue background would be best. Because our eyes a designed for it (sky blue). And it would be easier to keep clean than a black.

  22. Matthew Petering says:

    Two thoughts spring to mind.

    Firstly not all adhesive vinyl is created equally. Check out a professional sign vinyl from a supplier such as (I just googled texas sign vinyl supply to get that one as I believe you live in Texas? I have no idea if they are a good company or not, I live in Melbourne Australia 😀 ). Adhesive vinyl used for professional applications has a much better ‘conformability’ which should help alleviate the creasing issue.

    Secondly,if the clear acrylic sheets you mentioned are the perfect flexible surface for you and the only issue is the colour, why not source a sheet and apply a decent adhesive vinyl over the top? Would give you the black finish you want with the material flex you desire.

    Also, why not try a matt black vinyl? That would possibly reduce lighting glare from the material surface even more?

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