Seamless white backgrounds are a standard request for any portrait photographer. The client needs a clean, distraction free photograph that maybe suits their website or publication – often white.
There are many different ways to do this, the standard tends to be seamless white paper, especially useful if you’re shooting full-length body. But your requirements may not always be so broad, and shooting anything above the toes means you can use an alternative – anything white really. I’ve tried several different “white” backgrounds over dozens of different shoots, and while I do appreciate the way paper works and behaves in light, the disposable nature of the roll, the weight, and the extra stands required to hold it can add costs and time to a shoot that are unnecessary.
So what do I want in a white backdrop? I want something versatile enough that it can go pure white, or maybe fade to grey under the right conditions if necessary. I want it to be wrinkle or blemish free, so I don’t have to spend an hour in Photoshop just cleaning it up, and I want it to pack down light so I can take it to a shoot and set it up solo.
In tight spaces where I don’t have the room to setup strip lights and separate background lights, I like to use the background as a shoot-through softbox, so that I can create a clean swath of white light on my subjects.
The X-Drop by Westcott
Looking through the FJ Westcott website, I noticed their X-drop background system, which seemed to hit my requirements. The package is extremely light, an aluminum frame is reasonably well built, though it made me a little nervous compared to some more robust steel stands (but this is the trade off between weight and durability), the frame quickly unpacks and expands to hold any number of available backdrops. Again, for this shoot I was testing white, though the carry-bag expands allowing for an additional backdrop, which adds to it’s versatility on a shoot (two backgrounds, two looks).
The material used for the white is textured, almost flannel, I kind of wanted to wrap it around myself for warmth. That texture also means it won’t be as reflective of smoother materials, a bonus for lighting control and avoiding spill, while still being white-enough to blow out if exposed properly.
If I had pets I’d probably be worried about the background material picking up a lot of hair, even though it is machine washable, I think it’d be prudent to bring a lint-roller along with you on a job. JUST IN CASE. They are handy for other reasons, so should probably be part of your kit anyway.
While I found it took up a bit too much space for my needs, and I’d like to see Westcott figure out a way to keep it stable but not be as deep, I think many photographers will find a place for this in their kit, replacing the hassle a full seamless paper backdrop will bring, and added versatility with multiple background options in a small package making it an ideal on-location backdrop.