Essential exposure technique: settings for seamless backgrounds

Before: The bright white background dominates the frame and the camera has attempted to render it midtone grey, resulting in ‘muddy’ underexposure of the whole composition (Image credit: Future)

Seamless black or white backgrounds are excellent for focussing the attention of your viewers onto the main subject of your images. By rendering the backdrop a solid shade, there are no distracting details, jostling for dominance. This type of background works equally well for portraits, still life shots and macro subjects, however the large expanse of bright or dark area can confuse your camera’s metering system. A black seamless background will often trick a camera into overexposing, since the system will perceive a low level of reflected light and therefore ‘assume’ ambient light levels are low. 

Conversely, a white backdrop may result in an underexposed, or even silhouetted subject, due to misread brightness. To side-step these common issues, we can experiment with metering modes, for more precise exposure measurement, and recompose the frame, to help the camera better assess the area of the scene that should be used as the exposure reference. 

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Peter Fenech

As the Editor for  Digital Photographer magazine, Peter is a specialist in camera tutorials and creative projects to help you get the most out of your camera, lens, tripod, filters, gimbal, lighting and other imaging equipment.

After cutting his teeth working in retail for camera specialists like Jessops, he has spent 11 years as a photography journalist and freelance writer – and he is a Getty Images-registered photographer, to boot.

No matter what you want to shoot, Peter can help you sharpen your skills and elevate your ability, whether it’s taking portraits, capturing landscapes, shooting architecture, creating macro and still life, photographing action… he can help you learn and improve.