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Shooting on the Cyc

A cyc (cyclorama) wall provides a seamless method of shooting against white, gray, or, sometimes, black. How you light it determines what it looks like. It provides an infinity edge – there should be no or a subtle transition between the floor and the wall.

I like cycs because of their versatility. As a subject, you should like it for this reason, too.

An unlit (directly) cyc wall that is white provides a grey background, like this:

If you light it, it will become white. When I light a cyc wall white, I want it paper white – you should see no difference between the paper backing of a print and the color (or lack thereof) of the wall.

By itself, a plain background like this isn’t bad. It’s a classic look that never gets old. But, through the virtues of ┬ápost processing, you or your photographer may decide to amp it up a little, like this:

Changing the background in post, grey actually makes it a little harder than white, but either way I prefer to shoot against a plain background like this and change it up in post processing to achieve the look I want. Sometimes I want the simplicity that the cyc wall offers without any changes; other times, I want something more. Shooting against a cyc wall offers, in my opinion, the ultimate in versatility. You aren’t locked into a particular look. While it’s true that you can extract a subject from just about any background, the difficulty in post processing increases as the background increases in┬ácomplexity.

I find white the easiest to extract from, but perhaps the most difficult to match in terms of lighting. Often when shooting against white, I use the “wash” from the wall to provide highlights on my subjects. To achieve white, the wall must be about 1.5 to 2 stops over my subject exposure; depending on the distance your subject is from the wall, this wrapping effect will be either subtle or strong.

Shooting against an unlit cyc doesn’t provide this lighting effect, thus it makes the subject stand out less from the background and easier to integrate into any post processing that is done, particularly background replacement. But you give up that wrap.

Interaction with the background (and any textures used to create an effect) is important, too. In this case I did not mask out the dancer – this increases the color blending and interaction with the texture used as a background. In other cases, I want a foreground/background separation and keep them distinct.

Remember that post processing is as important as capture. A final image is a result of the two. Realizing a vision – one that hopefully you have discussed with your photographer – is in the final image, not specifically in how it was achieved.

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