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I've read photographers write about using a cyclo wall instead of a seamless background. What is a cyclo wall?

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2 Answers 2

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In a large professional studio (think of something that you'd bring a vehicle into to photograph) a cyclo wall is a permanent installation that serves the same purpose as a seamless background paper setup. A cove, or curved transition, is built between wall and floor (usually a bendable plywood over a rib form), and the wall, cove and floor are painted the same color, usually white. The wall stops short of the ceiling so lights can be fired from above and behind. Think of a light table (not a transparency viewer -- one of those deals with a plexi sweep) writ large. The idea, as with seamless paper, is to allow the subject to appear to float in space, often to allow the subject image to be "keyed out" later for print, although it is just as easy to create a gradient background with lighting alone. It is used mostly for large product photography (vehicles and major appliances), although something at a somewhat smaller scale would be useful for fashion (particularly catalog) shoots.

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A 'cyclo wall,' also referred to in various combinations of 'infinity,' 'seamless,' 'cyc,' 'cyclo,' 'wall,' 'drop,' 'backdrop,' and 'background,' are all synonyms for the same thing:

A backdrop which curves smoothly at the floor in order to eliminate the 'corner' where the wall meets the floor, thereby providing the illusion that the floor stretches on to infinity.

Visual top-down example of a 'cyclo wall:'

Visual top-down example of a 'cyclo wall

In short, a seamless background and a cyclo wall are different terms for the same thing.

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1  
Looks like it comes from the word "cyclorama", from theater, back when live theater was bigger than the movies. –  mattdm Jan 11 '11 at 22:12
    
You are correct. It's also a really one of those really ambiguous phrases because it can mean something different depending on whether you're talking about: theater/music (semi-opaque scrim with images rear-projected on it), moviemaking (same as theater/music OR large chroma key screens), movie watching (the theater's screening wall), or photography (above). It seems to be one of those words that just got borrowed from industry to industry as new things got invented... –  Jay Lance Photography Jan 11 '11 at 22:28
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In my day, a "cyclo wall" was a permanent installation -- a cove was built between wall and floor (usually a bendable plywood over a rib form), and the wall, cove and floor were painted the same color. The wall would stop short of the ceiling so lights could be fired from above and behind. Same idea, but more useful for large product photography than seamless. Think of a light table (not a transparency viewer -- one of those deals with a plexi sweep) writ large. –  user2719 Jan 11 '11 at 23:24
    
@Stan Rogers - what you're describing is what I'd been read elsewhere prior to this question –  rfusca Jan 12 '11 at 2:00
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I'll repost as an answer, but you've gotta know that terminology is kind of slippery, especially these days with what used to be prohibitively expensive studio techniques falling into the realm of the prosumer/hobbyist. One can no longer assume that "cyclo wall" isn't just referring to the elimination of the wall/floor seam. –  user2719 Jan 12 '11 at 2:32

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