Lighting setup

How to Blow Out Your Background for a White Seamless Look

The image below was not shot on a white background. It has a minimal level of adjustment in Lightroom to it, mostly to clean up the edges, but that’s about it. It was taken in front of the greyish-blue wall in the lobby of the offices in San Carlos.

Ben on a grey background.

Ben on a grey background.

The thing about a relatively light-colored background is that it lends itself to a surprisingly large number of options for photographers. Though grey backgrounds work best for this, you can with some tweaking, turn just about any light-colored background — grey, blue, beige — completely black, as I demonstrated How to Turn a Background Black with Speedlights. In this article, I’ll show you how to blow out that background completely to make it look like you’re shooting in front of a white backdrop.

The setup for this portrait was exceedingly simple. I placed one Nikon SB-910 in a Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe and one bare-bulb, with the included diffuser attached. The SB-910 in the Lastolite softbox was placed on camera-left, while the bare-bulb SB-910 was placed directly behind Ben, and slightly below the level of his shoulders. It was pointed up at an angle at the wall behind Ben, as shown below.

Lighting setup

Lighting setup

I set the flashes to manual, making sure that the flash hitting the wall was about 2 stops brighter than the flash on Ben’s face. The diffusion in the softbox cut the power of the light on Ben by another 1/3 stop or so, I estimate. That was it. It took a bit of tweaking the power on the lights and the aperture for exposure and depth of field, but the final exposure was 1/250th at f/4, ISO 100. Light falloff resulted in the corners being a bit darker, but an exposure brush in Lightroom took care of that very easily.

As a bonus, if you’re looking to do a portrait in front of a similar wall, but don’t want it to go to full white and you want some variance in the color, try this: place the background flash to the site behind your subject. Have it pointed right at the wall and angle it in at about 45 degrees. What will end up happening is that you’ll get a gradient of light, going from one side to the other.

Gradient background with a single flash

Gradient background with a single flash

The nice thing with this technique is that if you angle it right, you can end up with a very nice rim light on your subject, which adds to the portrait. So here’s a tip for you folks – try one of the tips above, but put a gel on your flash first. What kind of results do you get? Leave us a link in the comments below!

Sohail Mamdani is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


  • Sonja Knight

    This is so helpful. Thank you for your information on how to blow out that background completely to make it look like you’re shooting in front of a white backdrop. This is something not a professional photographer can also do.

  • Parfum De Pompeii

    This guy would look great in any light!! Nice work!!

  • Jeff

    I’d love to see a lighting setup picture for the gradient background lighting.

  • Sohail Mamdani


    That’s a 24″ softbox.

  • Dustin

    It’d be better to use 3 speed lights total for this setup and flag the sides of the speedlights closest to the subject with some black flags so you don’t get the back fill which you can see on the subjects jaw / cheek area (the ghost / soft look).

  • micpistol

    It’d be cool if you linked the equip used to the rental gear pages.

  • Crystal S

    He’s using two speedlights, they’re not constant.

  • wilfredo

    ugh..I rather use a strobe…using constant lighting for portraits, always mean softer images..when compared to strobe work…

  • Jodie

    Thanks for the tips. I’ll try the gradient background next time I’m doing portraits.

    BTW Ben is super cute. =)

  • Mark Hopkins

    Nice.. what size is that softbox?

  • Tien Ngo

    very helpful … thankyou 😀

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