Digital props and backgrounds are becoming increasingly popular in many photography markets. This has helped beginners start their own photography business with very little start up cost. Now you can look like you have a full size studio without spending $1,000’s of dollars on equipment. Here’s what you will need to get professional results every time.
1. White seamless background — You can find white vinyl in 60″ widths at most craft stores very inexpensively. I would recommend 5ft wide by 10 ft long to start.
2. External Flash or Soft Box — You will need an external flash that attaches to your camera’s hot shoe that can be bounced off a side wall or ceiling. This will give you a softer light and eliminate shadows. This is critical to getting a clean line around your subject when cutting out and selecting in Photoshop. (I’ll talk about this in a minute) If you want to get fancy, use a Soft Box on a stand. Position your Soft Box on the right side facing your subject at a 45 degree angle. This is the set up most professional studios use for their portraits.
3. Bounce Card (Reflector) — Use a 2×4 ft piece of poster board as a bounce card on the opposite side of your flash or Soft Box. This will help fill in any shadows you may have on the opposite side. You can also cover this with aluminum foil to give it more of a reflective finish.
Note: This will be a harsher light.
4. (Important) Distance From Background — It’s always best to have your subject as far from the background as possible. The minimum should be 4 to 6 ft. This will give you a shallow depth of field and no shadows casting on the background.
5. Photoshop (Selection) — You will need a version of Photoshop to use digital backgrounds and props properly. Photoshop Elements will work just as well as the expensive full versions. There are many ways to cut out your subjects using Photoshop, but the easiest way is the Magic Wand tool. (As long as you did the steps above) Select the tool and set the tolerance to 50. The higher the number the more aggressive the selection will be. Click anywhere on the white background. Photoshop will find the lines and set the selection. Play with the tolerance until you get a clean selection. Once you see the marching ants, go to (Select) and choose (Feather) and set this at 1 or 2 pixels. This will soften your edge making it look more realistic.
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6. Digital Backgrounds and Props — Now open your Digital Prop or Background. Click on your image with your subject and drag the cut out layer into your Digital Background or Prop. Position it so it looks proportioned and when your happy with the results, click on (Layer – Flatten Image).
Now Save your image as a new file, not overwriting your original. After you complete these steps over and over again, you will develop a workflow that can be done in just a few minutes. There you have it. Following these suggestions I have given you will greatly improve your digital background and prop portraiture. Your portraits will look like they were created in a full-sized studio allowing you to charge studio prices.
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