Us photography types know that the background of an image can be just as important as the subject. In the outside world, we rely on what nature has provided us or man-made backgrounds, but once we step into the studio, it’s a whole different kettle of fish. Plain colored walls can be easily used, but for convenience, consistency, and a seamless top to bottom look, we usually rely on photography backdrops. That’s why we’re bringing you a list of the best backdrops you can buy or rent.
The range of choice on the market covers every type of material, color, and design imaginable. You can have small portable items to huge, fixed-in-place backdrops for commercial studios. With so many options on the market to choose from, we will provide some examples of each, which you can directly dive into and purchase or use as inspiration to give you a jumping off point for your own particular needs.
When choosing a photography backdrop, you need to start with the intent. If you only shoot head shots, then a small portable backdrop can be the solution. For scenarios like full body shots or groups, then a larger, more permanent setup will be needed. The same reasoning goes for if you’re shooting video for podcasts, vlogs, or YouTube. We will also highlight the pros and cons of each type, and as with the majority of photography equipment, it’s important to keep in mind that you generally get what you pay for.
1. Seamless Paper Backgrounds (Overall Winner)
Seamless paper backgrounds are a good choice as they can be inexpensive and come in a variety of colors and sizes. Readily available online and from your local photography store, they can provide a seamless backdrop from floor to ceiling. They come in photo friendly colors and although some are predetermined sizes, you can also order them to the length you need.
Paper backgrounds usually need hanging up, so you will need some stands and clamps, which can be very cheaply bought, usually with some background material thrown in. You could tape backgrounds to a wall or try to secure them in a DIY fashion, but in the long run a set of stands will serve you much better.
Paper may also tear more easily than other materials and is harder to clean, but many paper backdrops are quite durable. Plus, they come in a seamless role, without creases. On that note, the ultra-budget options, which are folded up, should be avoided as the folds and creases are almost impossible to remove. Seriously, avoid these types, otherwise you will have endless hours removing background creases in post-processing.
Paper backdrops get the winning position as they can come in any length, provide seamless solid colors, and provide consistent professional results.
2. Printed Photography Backdrops
Printed photography backdrops don’t have to have a gaudy design, with many now available with generic looks, which can be used over and over again. For specific events such as a children’s party, there are plenty of fun backgrounds out there. They’re usually lower quality, however, as they are only designed to be used a few times.
More professional printed backdrops are tougher, have a more professional look, and can even be steam ironed with some examples. Owning a few generic designs can fit the bill for many different situations. One major plus point is that they’re more durable than paper versions, but professionally printed backdrops are generally more expensive and you’re stuck with the chosen design. Versions made out of cotton show the least wrinkles, while versions made out of vinyl or cheaper material will drive you mad trying to remove the creases.
3. Collapsible Backdrops
Collapsible backdrops are exactly what they say on the tin. They fold up like a regular reflector and can have a different color on each side. Available in solid colors or with a design, they are ideal for portraits, head shots, upper body shots and for close-up live podcasting.
They are very portable and can be improvised to stand up on their own or easily attached to a static stand setup. If you’re a travelling portrait photographer, a collapsible backdrop is an ideal solution. Quick and easy to set up and break down, you should opt for a black and white version to start with, then move on to more mad looking colors as you desire.
You may also be thinking if a collapsible backdrop is more or less like a standard reflector, why not use one of those? You can, but you may also be needing your reflector for your lighting setup and as regular reflectors are circular, they are simply harder to work with.
4. Vinyl Backdrops
Just like printed backdrops, vinyl backdrops can come in a variety of colors and designs. Various sizes are available to suit individual portraits or group shots and if you buy a quality version, it can be just as effective as a printed background. Standard colors of black, white and grey are a good starting point, with the price increasing with the larger the material size.
A stand setup will also be needed, as the material will be too heavy to attache to a wall with tape. This version of material is generally inexpensive and can be a cost-effective way to buy into a large seamless backdrop. However, some versions of vinyl backdrop can suffer from wrinkles and creases which can take forever to remove. Once you’ve been down the road of trying to iron out wrinkles for hours, you will never again question spending a little more on higher quality versions. On the plus side, vinyl is easy to clean.
5. Muslin Backdrops
Muslin is generally a lightweight material, which means it’s easier to set up and breakdown. Coming in solid colors and with designs, these backdrops are durable and can be used many times. Many have a rod pocket stitched in to easily fit onto a stand setup and are generally cheap to buy.
Being lightweight is the general advantage here and the material can be machine washed. It can also be steam ironed, but more care needs to be taken as I have burnt a few of these with the iron being either too hot or left in one place for too long. However, muslin backdrops tend to be very budget friendly.
6. Printed Canvas Photography Backdrops
Generally thicker and more wear-resistant than vinyl versions, printed canvas photography backdrops come in many different sizes and designs. If you opt for a simple design rather than a flat color then a canvas background can give more depth to an image. A stand setup will also be needed as a larger role of this stuff can be quite heavy.
On the plus side, the material can be washed, but will need a good dose of ironing. This means they can also be used over and over again. However, if ironing isn’t your forte, than the other options on the list may be a better fit. Canvas backdrops are reasonably priced and a good option for a nice thick background.
7. Polyester Backdrops (Budget Winner)
Many polyester backdrops claim to be wrinkle-resistant and come in a wide variety of colors and designs. Generally, machine washable and lightweight, you can find these in a variety of sizes with rod pockets, making them a convenient way to achieve a consistent background.
A reasonable choice for your first delve into backdrops, but if not hung correctly, they can end up looking like a big bed sheet. Also, be prepared to do quite a bit of steam ironing to remove creases over time. On the plus side, dirt and smears are easy to remove.
Choosing the Best Backdrops
The photographic backdrops listed above are just a snapshot of the numerous types of materials available. We’ve listed the most common types, with most being very cost-effective and available to be used straight away. Many other options, such as velvet, could be used or you could even improvise with something made from a set of curtains or scenery drapes.
However, for portability you cannot beat the collapsible backdrops and for full-sized versions, high-quality canvas and paper are good options. Paper may seem initially expensive, especially when you have to replace the stuff after getting it dirty or the odd tear. But, paper backdrops are consistent and, most importantly, hang flat and straight when new. Unless you buy the other materials fully rolled up, you may have to break out the iron for a few hours to make sure everything is wrinkle free.