December 4, 2010

Creating a Dark Background Naturally

When I received the Winter 2010 issue of Wildflower Magazine, I noticed there had been a photo contest and the winners were being announced.  Of course, I'm quite taken by the Second Place Winner in the Botanical category:  "Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum biflorum var. commutatum)" by Jane Rogers.  Lovely dark background.  Charming white blooms.  Gorgeous greenery.  Simplicity and elegance. However, I don't think it was the long exposure that created the dark background.  I suspect it was the lighting and the use of natural shadows.

If you place an object in bright light and use a natural shadow behind the object, you will get a strong contrast and a nearly black background in the image.  In the following example, I placed the plant just so that it was barely in the sunlight and right next to a shadow, courtesy of my car.

After some fiddling, taking a few shots, and then editing, this is the resulting image:

I left a little light in the background because I rather liked it, but I could have cropped it out.

So if you've ever wondered how people got those deliciously inky backgrounds and beautifully lit blooms, now you know and can try it out!  No purchase necessary!  Architectural shade is best, and the stronger the contrast between the light and the shadow, the better.  You will probably have to fiddle a bit and adjust your position for composition purposes, but it's easy enough to do.

I'm so excited about all the holiday cactus in stores right now.  I had to buy this salmon colored one.  It's love!


  1. Most of those black backgrounds you see are so easy to do. Just place the item in low light and shoot the image with flash. If the flash is not strong enough to reach the actual background it comes out black.

  2. Really good tip, thanks. Great photo btw. really lovely colour.

    I will try it :)

  3. Good tip. Tricks are always welcome.

  4. This is a good one. I always wonder how those photo with black background is taken. Now I know! Thank you!!

  5. Beautiful shot! I noticed my Christmas cactuses (2 in one pot) are putting out buds now! Very exciting. I keep them out in the screen room where they get all that long period of full darkness each night, and they come through for me every year!!! Good luck with your new one!

  6. Thanks for the tip. I know nothing!

  7. Thanks everyone! I'm glad it was helpful!

    Randy - But it's hard to do if you include the ground, and then there's the whole issue of using the flash, diffusing the light, etc. I had to take a few shots because I find photographing holiday cactus to be unusually difficult.


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