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Best background for frame photos

Discussion in 'Photography Issues' started by Larry Peterson, Apr 23, 2015.

  1. Larry Peterson

    Larry Peterson PFG, Picture Framing God

    I have struggled over the years taking moulding and frame photos for my site. I recently retired (and sold on eBay for a nice price) my Nikon D40 and bought a Nikon D5300.

    I have played with ways to take decent photos and would finally like to get it right. I think I have my basic setup right except for a decent background to take photos.

    Here is my studio:


    The lights are all daylight CFLs and I use white foam core for my backgrounds. Using foam core for a background doesn't seem right but I don't know what else to use.

    The problem with white foam core is that white overwhelms the moulding and frames and the photos are under exposed and the white balance is out of whack. I take all my photos at the highest resolution in RAW format and they require an lot of 'fiddling' in Photoshop to get them to look good (or not so good)

    With my new D5300 I have adjusted the Exposure Compensation and White Balance to compensate for the white background and now my photos don't need as much 'fiddling'. I do have some green screen material. I tried it several years ago but didn't seem to get any better pictures then.

    Any suggestions on a better background? Should I try the green screen material again or something else? Or any other suggestions for getting better pictures. I will be re-taking all the images for my site and would like to get my setup right before I begin. Nothing is sacred except for the D5300.

    Here are some of my images. The first two were taken with the D5300, the last two with the D40.




    FramerInTraining likes this.
  2. Steve Collins

    Steve Collins SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    I would get a neutral gray background. Here's a cloth one: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/search?N=11027708&InitialSearch=yes&sts=pi, or you can get a roll of neutral gray paper. I use a pearl gray paper that I bought from Adorama, but it appears to be discontinued. Other grays are here: http://www.adorama.com/l/Lighting-a...ports/Paper-Backgrounds?sel=Color-Family_Gray. I'm assuming you're doing custom white balance? If so, you should know that the camera aims for gray, not white, so you generally get better results if you use neutral gray background for the white balance reference shot. You want a truly neutral gray, however, otherwise the warm or cool variance it has will affect subsequent shots. If you don't do custom white balance or are already happy with the color that you're getting, the gray background will still help with actual shots. Reason in this case for neutral gray is to avoid visual influence that the background inevitably has on how people see color.
  3. Larry Peterson

    Larry Peterson PFG, Picture Framing God

    Never thought about using gray. Since all my backgrounds are small (none over 16"x20"), could I glue a gray mat to my present fome core backgrounds? I stock 9 different grays. Maybe something in the middle like 976 Bar Harbor Gray or 974 Dawn Gray?
  4. Dave

    Dave SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God

    Both of those are a little on the cool side, but the Dawn Gray would be better.
  5. Larry Peterson

    Larry Peterson PFG, Picture Framing God

  6. Steve Collins

    Steve Collins SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    Mat board would be fine if right hue and value; want it middle gray; not light or dark, not warm or cool.
  7. DVieau2

    DVieau2 PFG, Picture Framing God

    Oh my gosh,

    That all seems like so much work. Extracting an image and inserting any color background is easy in Adobe Photoshop or Elements.
    This gives you a bit of tutorial.

    When I add a photoshop background color I simplify the process even more.
    Select you subject.
    Inverse the whole image.
    Use the paintbrush tool to select color and paint over the whole image.

    Here's a light brown background I put on one of my samples. I would say it the background color took less than 5 minutes.


    motorcycle canvas for web.jpg
  8. Larry Peterson

    Larry Peterson PFG, Picture Framing God

    Doug, its not extracting a background and inserting a background. As you say that is easy. I do remove the background after I take a picture. In fact my background after I taken an image is transparent which converts to white when I convert the PSD to a JPG.

    The issue is the effect of the physical background on the image when the photo is taken. A white background causes the moulding to be underexposed and with poor color balance. What I was asking about is using a background that doesn't have these negative effects on the moulding portion of the image. Whatever the new background is, it gets removed when I edit the image.
  9. Martyc85

    Martyc85 True Grumbler

  10. Steve Collins

    Steve Collins SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    Martyc85 likes this.
  11. Larry Peterson

    Larry Peterson PFG, Picture Framing God

    Yesterday I talked to a friend of mine that does a lot of similar photography for his web sales. He was at my shop and looked at the mat that I choose and didn't think it would do the job. He directed me to a site for Nikon users; www.nikonites.com

    I spend a bunch of time lurking and reading threads on backgrounds and the end result was that I ordered some of this: http://www.adorama.com/SA261227.html; Savage Seamless Background Paper,Thunder Gray, #27

    I'll let you know how it goes once I receive it.
  12. echavez123

    echavez123 MGF, Master Grumble Framer


    If your camera has a histogram, then get the non-white portion of your image in an acceptable range with the correct combination of F stop and Shutter speed. Try to keep your F stop at about f8 and adjust shutter accordingly. You will get a large spike to the right (overexposed) light for the white background, which can be ignored. Once calibrated, use these settings in manual mode as constant (assuming your lighting does not change). This will give you consistent exposure. Perhaps, including a color card in the image (to be cropped out later) will make color balance easier. You can easily add a curve in PS and use the white square from your color card to get the white point correct. This will get you 99 - 100 % correct.

    My free two bits.
  13. SportShots

    SportShots CGF II, Certified Grumble Framer Level 2

    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/search?Ntt=Flotone Graduated Background&N=0&InitialSearch=yes&sts=ma&Top Nav-Search=

    I don't sell them or have any connection to either B&H or the flotone folks. I have used these for years - with two of this type still in use after more than 20 years now.
    Many good suggestions on here that will work for you if you finesse things a bit.
    Even the white fomeCor background is very good if you scrim the light or modify it a bit.

    The finest results will be had using cross polarized lighting. Complete control of reflections this way. I've done professional copy work for museums, artists and galleries for over 30 years now with the largest copy photos from wall murals that were 110 feet long by 30 feet high. Took time as they were outdoors and we had to work at night.
  14. echavez123

    echavez123 MGF, Master Grumble Framer

    Just noticed something else, maybe it is my monitor, but your frame images are great, but they seem to have a yellow cast. Do you notice that?
  15. jferrari

    jferrari Guest

    That may be a difference in monitors or it might be that Larry warmed them in post.
  16. Rick Granick

    Rick Granick SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God

    For photographing finished frame jobs, I got a piece of light gray felt from the fabric store, and I just drape that over a 32x40 glass box leaning against my chopper in the workroom, which is about the only spot in the shop that doesn't reflect light sources or windows from most angles. It drapes from almost vertical to horizontal on the floor, providing a seamless background.
    :cool: Rick

    Martyc85 likes this.
  17. Larry Peterson

    Larry Peterson PFG, Picture Framing God

    I've been using this background for a while and it works very well.
  18. Daniel Smith

    Daniel Smith Grumbler

    You might also try raising the artwork off the background a bit so you get soft shadows rather than a harsh transition. Experiment a bit and when you get what you like make sure to note the setup. Photograph it if need be so you can do it again.
  19. njw1224

    njw1224 CGF, Certified Grumble Framer

    Two things should make this very straightforward for you:

    1) As others have said, use a custom white balance. If you shoot a neutral gray mat board and keep that image always on your camera card, you can always use it as your custom white balance image. Then there'll be no need for color fiddling in Photoshop.
    2) Use Manual exposure on your camera instead of any of the auto settings. Since it appears from your setup that your lighting is always the same, you should be able to find a good aperture/shutter speed/ISO setting combination that gives you the proper exposure. Then just always use those settings. By shooting in Manual, you won't get the exposure fluctuation that Auto gives you when you photograph a black vs a white moulding. Dark objects will cause the camera to overexpose (images too bright) and very light objects will cause the camera to underexpose (images too dark). Finding the right Manual settings eliminates that.

    Once you custom white balance and shoot in Manual mode, your post-production correction should be next to nil. If the Manual settings confuse you, call a photographer friend who can help you figure out the best settings. It should only take them a few minutes.
  20. framah

    framah PFG, Picture Framing God

    Anyone notice how Rick's shot has a purplish hue to the gray background as well as the color or it changes as we head to the bottom of the frame?

    This is what happens when it isn't lighted evenly and the image hasn't been color corrected.

    Even lighting is very important to getting accurate colors as well as the temp of the lighting will affect the color outcome.

    This is his shot with a bit of white balance tweeking Not alot but the white is a truer white and the gray isn't as purplish.

    So, yes... gray background is a good idea but you still have to get a good white balance for the subjects to show the correct color... which is pretty much useless if the viewer has a cheap monitor or it hasn't been calibrated in a long time.

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