I'm setting up a cheap home studio and want to get a single background for portrait shots to keep costs down. The room is currently way too bright as it is rather small for the purpose and with all white rooms. How dark a background should I get to allow the most flexibility in creating a background of any color and brightness with a gelled flash?

Am I right in thinking that I should go for something close to black, as I don't want the lighting of the subject to turn my background too bright for low key shots, but it is possible to turn even a "black" background quite bright with a flash pointing directly to it at high power?

Specifically, I'm looking at http://www.photography-backgrounds.co.uk/Photography-Background-Papers/1.35-x-11-metres.html and their differnt types of grays/blacks.


1 Answer 1


If you have a small, bright room with white walls, then for high key shots I'd use the walls.

If you want to use a grey background for both high and low key shots, in general it's going to be easier to darken the background (flag the background with some tall foam board, cover any windows, and assuming you can get some subject/background distance) than it is to get enough light power to make it white.

Do you have an 18% grey card you can experiment with? With a stand-in for your subject, place the grey card on the wall and see if you can bring it to black and white, and if so which is the more difficult to achieve. Then pick a background color accordingly.

Here is a video on using a grey background in both low and high key situations.


  • \$\begingroup\$ There's currently no way I can bring the background to black even with lighting the subject very close, I only have room to place the subject 3 meters away from the back wall at the very most - this is why I'm leaning towards something darker rather than brighter. \$\endgroup\$
    – SoftMemes
    Jan 11, 2012 at 22:49

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