How to Get Photos with a Completely Black Background

You have surely seen a multitude of photographs of insects, flowers, even portraits, with this characteristic black background that greatly contrasts the image and highlights the photographed object.

In this article we are going to show you how to do it very easily. Give me a few minutes and I’ll explain.

At First: Try Placing a Black Background

When one considers obtaining one of these photographs, the first thing one thinks is: if I have a black background, it will be much easier for me.

So take fabrics, clothes, cards, papers, or whatever, black. and places it behind the object to be photographed and shoots. The resulting output can be something like the following (f / 8, 1/150 sec., ISO 100, Flash ON).

as a starting point it’s not bad. But, as you can see, the background is not uniform. It presents lighting differences due to folds, wrinkles, etc.

So, with a photo like these, you have no choice but to go to Photoshop and try to paint the background evenly so that it is perceived as completely uniform.

Why haven’t we got a dark background despite having it?

Oddly enough, the fact that the background is black is not the most important thing to achieve a background of this color. It helps, but as you have seen in the previous image it is not enough.

It is also necessary to consider some aspects related to flash photography, fundamentally one, which I am going to tell you about below.

In Flash Photography there are two illuminations: Foreground and Background

When we photograph with flash, especially in macro photography or when there is a certain distance between the subject and the background, we must consider the existence of two illuminations:

  • The lighting of the foreground, which is controlled with the diaphragm. The tighter it is, the darker the foreground will appear, or the more intensity the flash will require to illuminate properly.
  • The background lighting, which is controlled by the exposure time. A shorter exposure time allows for a darker background.

What is this about? Well, the Inverse of the Square, which means that as we move away from the light source, the intensity with which this light acts decreases quadratically,

Influence of the exposure time on the background In this way, the background lighting (if it is properly far from the foreground) will depend exclusively on the ambient light and not on the flashlight, so we can reduce the lighting background reducing the exposure time.

You have an example of the latter in the top two images, both were shot with f / 8, ISO 100, and Flash ON. But on the left the exposure time was 1/50 sec., While on the right the exposure time was 1/160 sec.

What Settings Should I Use Then?

Vessel on black background It has become clear to you that we must be aware of the existence of two illuminations when photographing with flash, as well as how to control each one, right?

Well, if it has been clear to you, it is only a matter of thinking a bit about the most appropriate settings for what we want to achieve, which is nothing more than turning off the background.

These settings are as follows:

  • Determine the appropriate aperture so that your subject appears perfectly sharp. Of course, make sure that the Guide Number of your flash allows you to close the aperture enough to achieve the desired depth of field and, at the same time, expose correctly.
  • Shorten the exposure time to turn off the background. Depending on the ambient light, you will need to reduce it more or less. If there is a lot of light you may need to get off the 1/200, 1/250 second border. In that case, consider the possibility of selecting the FP mode of your flash.
  • Of course, the ISO sensitivity value as low as possible, as always.
  • Also, as we have mentioned, try to separate the background from the foreground as much as possible, so you will ensure that the flash does not intervene in the lighting of it.
  • And, of course, if you have a black background and the conditions exist to be able to prepare the shot and use it, use it. It will simplify and improve the result of the work. But remember that it is not enough.

Following all these settings, and with a distribution like the one you see in the images that I show you below, I took my photograph.

How I took that picture?
Yes, that’s right, for the photography I used some accessories that I have already told you about in previous articles: a reflector and a diffuser for the flash.

As for the selected settings, as I mentioned in the previous section, they were f / 8, 1/160 sec., ISO 100 and Flash ON.

The Last Touch: Going Through Lightroom or Photoshop

As I say, if you follow all the steps I have indicated, you will get a pretty dark background. But you might want it to go even deeper.

That’s what Lightroom or Photoshop are for, to help you whenever you need it. In the case of Photoshop we could use an Adjustment Layer ‘Levels’ and through it achieve a purer background.

In the case of Lightroom, we will work, either through the Tone Curve, or through the tools that allow us to work on lights and shadows (Black, Shadows, Exposure, Highlights and White).

Adjustments in Lightroom If there is still a small region that is not dark enough, you may want to use the “Blemish Removal (Q)” brush.

The final result

You can see the result achieved below. Isn’t the background very, very dark?

Final Result And best of all, we didn’t need the black background (although it would have helped). Only the use of the flash and the proper knowledge of which settings to select.

Well, a little bit of Lightroom or Photoshop at the end. But practically nothing 🙂

Do you dare to try it and tell us your impressions?

Header photo by Sergey Urzhumskov (CC License)