I take pictures on film and with direct lighting in front of black backgrounds or sometimes in direct sunlight. In both of these situations I want to sometimes cover parts of the subject in complete black for artistic purposes. Just taking some black cloth doesn't do the trick it still reflects too much light and therefor is visible as gray material on the photos. Any tips on what material to choose to increase the light swallowing effect?

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    \$\begingroup\$ To confirm - your goal is to take an exposure coving some part of the frame so that it comes out essentially blank on the film, so that you can do a double exposure thus getting detail to that area in particular? \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    May 22, 2019 at 19:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Duvetyne? Black velour flocking paper? \$\endgroup\$
    – xiota
    May 22, 2019 at 19:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ Simple black velvet fabric is really good, and cheap. If you want paint, Krylon flat black is about as good as you can get for something cheap and easy to obtain. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eric S
    May 22, 2019 at 21:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have no business relationship with Thor, but scientific supply companies usually produce good light-absorbing materials for optical experiments, etc. For visible light, the BFP1 black flocked paper is a good option. \$\endgroup\$
    – J...
    May 23, 2019 at 13:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have not tried this stuff (so not posting an answer,) but Wikipedia mentions Black 2.0 in the "Artisitic Use" section of the Vantablack article. It is available on Amazon provided your name is not Anish Kapoor. \$\endgroup\$
    – JRE
    May 23, 2019 at 14:41

4 Answers 4


Use something with a matte finish or matte fibres. Take a magnifying glass to a fabric store along with a light and something to take reflective light metering with.

Shiny synthetic fibres [and even some natural wools] might look black, but are at risk of casting bright specular reflections toward the camera which increases the apparent brightness.

You also want your masks to be as smooth and even in the scene as you can get them: Folds and wrinkles will be more likely to show in the second exposure than a smooth texture.

From there, the next step would be to adjust how you're metering: Use a spot meter off the black-masking you're putting in the image, and use zone-system like metering methods to drop it down to where you want it.

This process may also involve getting creative with supplemental lighting work to achieve the best results:

  • Cast shadows on what you want dropped to black
  • Use flash or reflectors to put more light where you need it.

The method may be further pushed by using a film with higher contrast.

However, depending on exactly what you are aiming for from an end result, a more practical option may be to mask and double expose in post rather than directly on the film.

[You have some totally clear frames kicking around from accidentally taking photos with a lens cap on or something, right? By going this route you haven't 'made a mistake', you've been stockpiling masking stock for post production work!]

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    \$\begingroup\$ By going this route you haven't 'made a mistake', you've been stockpiling masking stock for post production work! love it! \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    May 22, 2019 at 19:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Use something with a matte finish or matte fibres. Take a magnifying glass to a fabric store along with a light and something to take reflective light metering with. Wow what a great idea on a really professional approach for my kinda niche undertaking! Much love also for detailing good practices. As for your ideas regarding post: While I think they are great, doing anything in post kinda goes against my concept of everything coming together in the camera. I might explore this in the future though \$\endgroup\$
    – Jeffrey
    May 22, 2019 at 20:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jeffrey good luck with your projects. I try to write responses to both the original question and for anyone asking similar questions. Doing that work with reversal films sounds like an awesome challenge, and I hope you find a workflow that gets you to where you want to go. \$\endgroup\$ May 22, 2019 at 20:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'll make this the accepted answer as it doesn't directly suggest any material but describes the best way to find the most suitable material I think! \$\endgroup\$
    – Jeffrey
    May 22, 2019 at 20:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank's a lot yeah my work by its nature involves always changing methods and experimenting! I'll respond with updates here once I tried some of the methods! \$\endgroup\$
    – Jeffrey
    May 22, 2019 at 20:21

If you want black, black velvet from the fabric shop does a really good job. Here is a sample tabletop, the full light is directly on it.

This was a ISO 200 f/8 photo with flash.

It is a better grade called dressmaking velvet, which does better than the cheaper grades. The fabric shop will know what you want. I don't know about using it in sunlight, try just one yard first. But any of it is vastly better under the lights than other fabrics or paper.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a good answer. High-pile velvet provides more paths for reflected light to be absorbed (it works in a similar fashion to Vantablack actually). It just has to be kept meticulously clean, as it's a lint magnet. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tristan
    May 23, 2019 at 14:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Masking tape wrapped around a few fingers does a good easy job of picking up all the specs. \$\endgroup\$
    – WayneF
    May 23, 2019 at 14:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ My local fabric store called it "velveteen". Use a lint brush or tape (like Wayne said) to keep it clean. If you are using artificial lighting, put the background further from the subject if possible. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mattman944
    May 25, 2019 at 22:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Velveteen is better than most fabrics for non-reflectance, but it is not the same thing. Velveteen is a less expensive imitation of velvet, with a shorter pile. Dressmaking velvet is best, the long deep velvet pile is what traps the light. \$\endgroup\$
    – WayneF
    May 25, 2019 at 23:05

What you need, is Vantablack. This awesome material reflects only .04% of light - way too little to affect those silver halides. That being said, I don't think it's commercially available. Perhaps there's a similar knockoff on the market?

All daydreaming aside, instead of trying to block all light from reflecting off the object and being recorded...why not instead filter and block? For example, if you switched to orthochromatic film, then you know that red light isn't recorded by virtue of the film...so you need only use material that reflects red. Alternatively, use a filter that cuts a part of the spectrum, like a deep red filter, and then use a material that reflects green/blue. My hypothesis here is that it's easier to find a material that reflects just a color than to find one that reflects near to nothing.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Haha yeah Vantablack came to mind but I couldn't find any resources and even if there were any it probably would cost a fortune and a half. I love your idea with filtering and / or using orthochromatic film. This however only helps If I'd shot black and white. Which I do half of the time but I'd also wanted to use this kind of technique for color photos. And my subjects are exclusively human beings so filtering red could really distort skin tones of most lighter skin complexions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jeffrey
    May 22, 2019 at 19:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jeffrey my digging led me to a Kickstarter that appears to have never got off the ground...shame...And 'Ah' - I didn't realize color film was a part of the equation...hmmmm.... \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    May 22, 2019 at 19:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks a lot for your efforts though. I think I'm still gonna try this or similar techniques for B/W shots. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jeffrey
    May 22, 2019 at 19:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Homemade Vantablack is easy. Get a butane lighter and a piece of metal and hold the metal barely in the flame so that it makes black soot. You've made carbon nanoparticles, though not nanotubes. If you need more, try an oil lamp, choking off the oxygen supply. \$\endgroup\$
    – user71659
    May 23, 2019 at 5:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Apparently Surrey NanoSystems do occasionally get involved in art projects which can help to showcase Vantablack. It's a cool technology and they seem to like people doing cool things with it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Booth
    May 23, 2019 at 10:46

Since you are masking out part of a staged subject and using a film camera, presumably with an SLR style through the lens viewfinder, how about just masking the lens with a black material?

A cutout on a cheap lens cap would work. Then only light from the desired subject matter even enters the camera.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This does not work because the close distance of the mask to the lens. You only will get a shaped bokeh google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=shaped+bokeh \$\endgroup\$
    – Rafael
    May 24, 2019 at 20:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ My Thought's exactly @Rafael I did however do this on one of my Photos. I masked half the lens and rotated the camera to have a mirrored double exposure fused together on my instagram I mentioned in the comment to my question it's the black and white one with the floating head \$\endgroup\$
    – Jeffrey
    May 28, 2019 at 13:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Probably a rig with a cardboard tube, to have the "cookie" further away from the lens. But I would use that for some home made special effects :o) \$\endgroup\$
    – Rafael
    May 28, 2019 at 16:09

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