From simple to spectacular: How to turn a boring backdrop into a custom piece of art

compositing photography

One of my favorite things with studio shots is customizing my backgrounds. When you customize your backdrop, you have the benefit of:

  • Saving money and the trouble of having to buy several different backgrounds
  • Freeing up storage space since you won’t have to keep tons of backdrops in your home or studio
  • Shooting faster and more fluid sessions because you won’t need to keep pausing to change the backdrop
  • Tailoring each background to your models and what they are wearing

For the image above, the model’s hair was adorned with butterflies, so I knew that I wanted to do something whimsical and sweet with the backdrop. I chose to shoot on a cream-colored paper backdrop because it matched well with my model’s top color. Of course, any backdrop color will work, but my favorites for shooting are white, cream, gray, and black.

After the photo shoot was complete, I pulled the image into Adobe camera raw and made my initial adjustments to the raw file. Next, I opened the image in photoshop and performed my usual workflow for skin, hair, and eyes. I wanted to go more painterly and dramatic with this image, so I went a bit heavier with my adjustments, did a few stages of dodge and burn, and used the liquefying tool on her hair for more volume.  

Once the image is edited, I’m ready to create the background. I want to use several radial gradients to darken the areas surrounding the model. I will also take the image back into ACR and add a bit of a vignette under the FX tab. The gradients and vignette help focus on the subject and add more depth once I incorporate the textures. 


Next,  I add several textures at low opacities and blur them to add more depth of field. Again, there is no need to extract your subject for this technique as long as you use low opacities and various blending modes on the textures. Typically, I will use soft light or multiple blending modes. Also, be sure you’re using a soft brush to mask the textures off of your subject. 


For my final step, I decided to create some custom brushes on the backdrop. So I pulled up a butterfly PNG, turned that into a brush, and then brushed on the butterflies randomly at low opacities to match the butterfly accessories with the background. 


Creating custom backdrops is a simple process, but it can bring a splash of creativity to the image. With a little bit of imagination, the possibilities are endless! 

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