One questions I am asked over and over is: How do you get the black background??
Personally, I use three different methods.
- Available natural light and a dark area like a barn isle.
- Artificial light from a strobe, also in a dark area.
Here is an example of natural light:
Here is an example of the strobe light:
And here is an example of Photoshop:
Of the three methods, I use the natural light the most, and Photoshop the least. Using natural light is simple and quick, with very little to do editing-wise.
In this blog post, I’m going to go through my process of editing a natural light photograph with a black background. I’ll do separate posts about the other two methods in the future.
This is the image straight out of the camera:
This is Baron, a super sweet Appendix. For this picture, he was standing at the end of a barn isle. I had his owner walk him as close to the edge as possible without having any direct sunlight hit him. The other end of the barn was solid, except for a couple of windows, which you can see as light spots.
As you can see, the background is already pretty dark. I could have gotten it even darker in camera if he were a lighter color, but I didn’t want to go too dark and start losing any detail on him.
One thing I will note is that I shoot in RAW. For those who are really interested in learning about the difference between RAW and JPEG, SLR Lounge has a FANTASTIC article that breaks it down and gives great examples.
For those who don’t care quite that much, just know that JPEGs are processed by your camera, while RAW files are not.
This means when you see a JPEG – even straight from your camera – it has already had basic editing done to it. Each manufacturer applies different settings, but contrast, brightness, saturation, color and sharpness are generally adjusted before you even put it on your computer.
RAW files are unprocessed. In comparison to JPEGs, they can look dull, flat and soft straight out of the camera. They generally require at least basic editing. However, they include far more color detail and most photographers choose to shoot in RAW for that benefit.
So here is the image after I do some basic processing in Adobe Lightroom:
I always begin in Lightroom where I can work on images in the RAW format. I have lots of little sliders that I mess with, including contrast, highlights, shadows, saturation, sharpness, etc.
Sometimes I move them a lot, sometimes I only move them a little. Sometimes I start with a commonly used preset and tweak from there.
In order to get a little more ‘richness’ and depth, I use the tone curves. These simple adjustments can make a big difference in the photo.
Here, you can see the blue tone curve adjustment for this image – normally it is a straight diagonal line:
The last thing I need to do with this image is get rid of the light from the window at the other end of the barn, and smooth out the background.
To do this, I use an adjustment brush that I paint on the background to bring down the exposure. This doesn’t change anything in the image, only makes the existing background darker. This particular image needed very little because the background was already so dark straight out of the camera.
After using the exposure adjustment brush:
I then brought the image into Photoshop, which I actually didn’t even really need to do with this one. I try to stay in Lightroom for as much of the editing as I can, so I work in the RAW format. Once an image is brought into Photoshop, it is converted to a JPEG.
If you look closely, you can see that I cleaned up around his eyes and nose, got rid of the random hay piece on his shoulder, and darkened the chain:
I then brought the image back into Lightroom and tweaked it a little more to my liking. I upped the contrast, darkened the black a tad, and added some sharpening:
Here is the before and after next to each other again: