Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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When photographing a subject in front of a backdrop, how much distance should there be between the two?

Just wondering if there is standard rule (I've heard some say at least 6ft) or if it's something that should be adjusted depending on the subject, lighting setup and effect that you're going for?

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This depends on the lens used, the lighting, as well as how much you want to separate the foreground from the background. This is a creative choice, I wouldn't suggest following any rule :) –  dpollitt Jan 5 '12 at 1:08
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Yes, but it would be great to get some answers that explain why you might make certain choices to achieve certain effects. –  seanmc Jan 5 '12 at 3:50

1 Answer 1

Its really a creative decision, but generally you're not putting the subject behind a traditional backdrop in order to really focus on the backdrop - so ideally you'd want it to be somewhat out of focus.

So generally, the further they stand from the background, the more out of focus the background will be. Unfortunately, how far depends on too many things.

  • How out of focus you want the background to be.
  • How far you are from your subject.
  • Aperture of your lens.
  • Your backdrop
  • Your lighting

Ideally your backdrop should be neutral in texture and tone enough that even a little out of focus will gently blur the whole thing and thus you won't have to get your subject a long way away.

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Is there a good rule of thumb for using a typical DoF calculator to select this, given the subject distance + focal length + aperture? That is, how much out out of (or still inside) the typically-considered-in-focus area does one want the backdrop to be? –  mattdm Jan 5 '12 at 6:32
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And, can some of this be pre-calculated for typical working focal lengths and apertures to give some useful examples or even "rules"? –  mattdm Jan 5 '12 at 6:33
    
@mattdm the problem is that its also going to depends on the backdrop and the lighting. If you're working with carefully steamed black velvet and really soft lighting you can get away with a lot more than a white sheet from the kids bed and a harsh grid light. –  rfusca Jan 5 '12 at 6:51

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