Probably the number one questions I get asked as a blogger is, “how do you get your backgrounds so white.” I absolutely love white backgrounds and I often even obsess about getting that perfect white without the picture looking over edited. White backgrounds seem simple, but if you’ve ever tried to photograph on them you probably know they are actually really tricky. Part of the reason is that the white background picks up and shows any hint of color or shadow. Also, the light sensor on the camera reads all of the bright light coming into the camera from the background and it messes with the automatic settings.
First, let me tell you a little bit about what I use to take pictures and my photography experience. I don’t have much formal education as a photographer. I took an intro to photography class one semester in college, and since then I’ve taken thousands of pictures for my blog and I’ve read articles and tutorials. I’m actually planning on doing a tutorial on taking white backgrounds on your phone, but this tutorial is specifically written with the beginner photographer in mind – someone with a DSLR camera and very basic knowledge of how to shoot in manual.
- Canon Rebel T2i and 18-55mm kit lens. My camera is the very basic DSLR and is about 3 years old. I don’t think they sell the exact model anymore, but the Canon Rebel T5 is a similar camera and only costs about $400.
- Tripod with a lateral arm – This is definitely not necessary, but it allows you to do so much more with your photography. Unlike your average tripod, there is an arm that bends forward allowing you to get perfect overhead shots. I only got this a few months ago and I’m in love!
- Remote trigger – Again this is not necessary, but it’s useful if you’re using a tripod. It allows you to get shots with both of your hands in a picture and it also allows you to shoot at a much lower shutter speed without your pictures being blurry.
- White foam boards – These are essential. You can find them at any craft store, office supply store, and even a lot of grocery stores. When you look at them in person you can see that some are slightly off white. These still work well, but the brighter white your background, the easier your job as a photographer. I also used the oversized foam boards for photographing larger images and I have only been able to find these at Hobby Lobby. They only cost about $5. *These are Amazon affiliate links. However, I personally own and highly recommend all three of them!
Lighting is very very important to getting a good picture, especially when working with a white background. Ideally you want bright indirect sunlight. You may want to play around with different places in and around your house to see where you can find the best lighting. Also, lighting will be different at different times of day. For me the best lighting is by the front window of my house in the afternoons. There is a lot of sunlight that comes through the window, but it isn’t harsh or direct. A lot of people love to work just inside of an open garage (I don’t have a garage so I’ve never tried this) or even outside on a cloudy day. Sometimes when I try to take pictures outside in the shade or when it’s cloudy my pictures end out having a blue tint. I think this is the blue sky reflecting onto your board. You can adjust the white balance settings on your camera, but for me personally that doesn’t always work well.
What happens when you take pictures on white backgrounds on auto is that your camera reads all of this bright light coming in from the background and it decides to let in a lot less light. This ends out giving you a grayish background and a dark subject. To fix this, you need to tell your camera how much light to let in, by increasing the exposure. Since it’s hard to tell from your little screen exactly how your pictures are turning out, I usually take a few pictures at different settings and then choose the one with the best exposure levels.
Here’s a great article about exposure that goes into a little more detail.
- ISO – I usually keep my ISO at 200. If you have less light, you could increase your ISO but sometimes it will make your pictures a little bit grainy.
- APERTURE – This is how large your camera lens opens when taking a picture. A lower aperture means that more light is coming in. When you’re taking pictures of things against a white background I would recommend using the lowest aperture you can. Mine is usually set at 4.5.
- SHUTTER SPEED – This is how long your lens stays open. If you’re taking pictures of moving objects, the shutter speed can affect the overall look of your picture, but when you’re taking pictures of still objects against a background, the only difference that it will make is how much light you are letting in. Tip – if you are holding your camera in your hands, your pictures will probably turn out blurry if you go lower than 1/60. (However if you are using a tripod and remote trigger, you can probably set your shutter speed as low as you want.)
So when the lighting is good, I start by setting my ISO and Aperture, and then I adjust the shutter speed so that the exposure level is close to the +1 on the meter, and then I take a picture or two. I then continue to lower the shutter speed one setting at a time (which increases the exposure) and keep taking pictures until they start to look too bright on my screen. This sounds complicated, but the whole process takes me literally 30 seconds and it ensures that one of the pictures at least will have perfect exposure.
Especially when you are taking a picture by a window, a white bounce is such a simple technique that can make a huge difference. Basically, you use place a white board on the opposite side of your subject from the window to bounce bright light back. It gives you more allover lighting, less shadows and it evens out the lighting in your pictures. I use old white foam boards that have gotten paint splatters or something on them for bounce. To make them really easy to work with, you can cut a slit right down the center of your board without going all the way through. Then you can fold the board in half, or set it up at a 90 degree angle so that it sits up all on its own.
I snapped this picture of my set up with my phone. You can see how much beautiful light is all glowing around the buttons because of the white bounce. You can also see I have white boards everywhere! And as I said before, this tripod is the bomb!!!
This is one of the simplest steps that makes such a huge difference. Basically, all you have to do is increase the brightness and contrast of the picture and right away your gray background will turn white and your subjects will look clearer and even more saturated. You will need to toggle around a little bit until you find the perfect amount of brightness and contrast to add, but I generally increase them both by close to the same amount.
Pops De Milk says
Great tips, thanks so much for sharing!
Great post! I always admire the perfect white backgrounds that other people have been able to do, but I can never seem to get right! Thanks! I'll be sure to try this 🙂
Thanks! I know it seems like it would be simple but it's actually really tricky. Let me know how it works out!
Lauren Ascher says
Love this! Thanks for sharing! Could you share a picture of how your light bounce board is set up? A short video tutorial would be amazing as well!
Hi Lauren, thanks! I added a picture with my light bounce board but I'm planning on sharing a separate tutorial on how to make one. Hopefully I'll post it later this week. And I'll try on the video, but can't promise anything 🙂
Allison Katelyn says
Thanks for sharing! I actually just discovered white foam board THIS PAST WEEKEND and it has literally changed my life for taking photo's of my crafts! Question – have you tried using colored foam board at all, or have you found that white definitely takes the best photo's?
~Allison Katelyn @ http://SimpleSilverLinings.blogspot.com
Yes – white foam board is amazing!!! I have also used colored backdrops and I think they work great for photos. Personally I use white a lot just to keep a consistent style, but colored backdrops are usually easier to photograph. I even have gotten a bunch of different colors of 12×12 scrapbook paper to use as backdrops since I haven't found that many fun colors of foam board. They work well if your subject is small.
So super helpful! White can be such a pain to get right and your photos are always spot on. xoxo
Thanks Cyd! White can be a pain to photograph! and thank you!
I love this! So helpful and inspiring. Thank you, now I'm off to take more & better photos with white backgrounds! 🙂
Yay! Let me know how they turn out!
Alexis Middleton says
Super helpful! I need that tripod. Thanks. 🙂
It’s the BEST!!! It’s still pretty expensive but less than half the price of the name brand one 🙂
Allison Dey Malacaria says
Wow, even your photos showing the process are so revealing. And clear! Thanks so much! My dolls are all shot on foam core from above on the driveway on an overcast day (I live in shared housing with no good windows) but even the best ones get overexposed in editing. I've googled how to set ISO, shutter speed, and aperture on my Canon Powershot. It says to set the shutter speed in Tv mode, the aperture in Av mode, and can set both in M mode. I have no idea what those modes are and wonder if your photo above is showing to use M mode. I've been using Auto only since I don't know how to do anything but point and click. What mode do I use? Thanks in advance!
Hi Allison – thanks! And up until about a year ago I lived in a town house with few windows surrounded by trees. It was so hard to find good lighting! I am shooting in M mode. I haven’t personally used Tv or Av mode much before, but other people seem to love them. In M (or manual mode) you’ll be able to choose and set all three. You can play around with different settings to see how it turns out, but I would look at your light meter to make sure you are letting in a lot of light (that’s the picture with the circled pink above). Just make sure you don’t set the shutter speed below 1/60 or your photos will be blurry. I hope that helps!
Amy W says
Ah, so great! Pinning this one for sure!!
Haeley @ Design Improvised says
Love this post! I have always been envious of your perfectly white photos – they are so good! I try to do most of the steps you’ve outlined, but I think the key is in the last editing step – I’m still working on that one! I use Lightroom to edit my photos – I’ve never used a lighten or dodge brush – I’m going to have to figure out which tools those are!
Shelley Treml says
Wow – this is genius!! It saves SO much time with photo editing. I personally use Photoshop to cut out the product and put it onto a pure white background, but I love this method…makes it so quick and easy!
Shelley from FabWallDesign on Etsy :o)
Thanks Shelley! I have been playing around with white background pictures for years and wanted to share my process with others. Your pictures look great! Using Photoshop to cut out the product is a great trick.
Corey @ TinySidekick says
Wow! Such good tips. I think I need to invest in that tripod so I don’t have to sit in such weird positions to get the right shots!
Thanks Corey! And the tripod is my favorite! I only got it this summer but I feel like it’s already taken my tutorial shots to a whole new level. Now it’s so much easier to include my hands in the picture as well.
Kristie Hill says
Best Post ever! (For white photographs). Thanks!
Thanks Kristie! I put a LOT of effort into this one and hope it’s helpful!
Love this tutorial! I’ve read about 100 “product photography” tutorials and this is the best by far! I appreciate knowing what the settings mean without having to read through a lot of photography lingo. 🙂
One question I had – what photo editing product do you use?
Thanks for sharing this great tutorial!
Thanks so much! That is exactly what I was trying to do! For whatever reason I usually use Corel Paint Shop Pro – It’s a lot like Photoshop but a little cheaper. You can also use picmonkey – a free online tool to edit pictures. You can do all of the basic edits like increasing the brightness and contrast.
Brian McCarthy says
Thanks very much. That’s really well explained and much easier to understand than any books on the subject or the manual you get with the camera. Much more clear and easier to remember for the next shoot. Well done!
Lindsey Crafter says
THANK YOU for this — I get so overwhelmed with these types of tutorials and this included just the basics I needed!
I use fotofuze.com, a free Etsy app that enables you to create pure white backgrounds for Etsy items. I use a very simple white nylon light box with two floodlights, arrange my jewelry on a white sheet of paper and take the pix with a simple digital camera. I fix color balance and brightness on photostudio6 and then list my items. After listing, the last step is fotofuze.com, which makes all my white backgrounds match in whiteness. I guess both your way and mine take some finagling. The results are the same.
That’s cool! I had not heard of fotofuze before but it sounds like a great tool. Your pictures are really beautiful!
SUCH a great tutorial, thank you!
Kamila Caban (Vicky B.) says
Thank you for this post! I have been trying to figure out how to get those pesky dark corners and edges of a picture to go white. I will definitely use your tip next time. 😀
It’s actually much easier to work with the White Balance setting on your camera; check it out!
The white balance tool can be really helpful! Although I’ve found that even when your lighting and white balance are just perfect, you still have to increase the exposure to get a perfect white background pic.
This information was wonderful. Thank you so much! I only have my Samsung Note phone camera to work with and a photo editing app on my phone called Photo Grid. I could potentially use another app but am not sure which one to choose. I believe I can edit my exposure and ISO on my phone. I’m going to try that. Any other recommendations you can make for using a phone camera? Also, should I try messing with my AWB white balance? Or leave it on auto?